The History of the Colne Valley Chapter 2

by D F E Sykes (1906)

IF we except the introduction of the Christian faith into this country, no event has had so great and so enduring an effect upon the destinies and lives of its people as the conquest of England by William the Norman, in the year 1O66. The battle of Hastings not only placed upon the English throne a foreign prince and settled the crown in a new dynasty, it revolutionised the whole law, customs and lives of the people, and to this day, millions of the inhabitants of our country, most of whom would be hard put to it to say when and between what arrays the battle of Sanguelac was fought, are suffering, and suffering in no slight degree, from its far-reaching consequences.

The changes introduced by William, when he had firmly settled himself upon the throne, affected nothing so much as the tenure of the land. With the Church he did not much concern himself, for the very simple reason that the Church in England, like the Church in Normandy, was part and parcel of the vast organisation which recognise the Pope at Rome as its earthly head. It had the same faith, the same ritual, the the same policy ; its priests were trained in the same schools, and its internal administration was conducted on the same or parallel lines. Nor did William or his successors materially alter those laws of contract that so silently yet so effectually regulate the ordinary daily intercourse between man and man. The devolution of personal property, too, he appears to have left untouched. That was settled by the ecclesiastical courts, and to a quite recent date personal estate devolved much after the manner that had been fixed upon as fitting and just by the priests of centuries ago. But upon the tenure and descent of the land Norman William or his lawyers left an impress that is as deep dinted to-day as when first its sinister brand was stamped; and when we realise that though labour may be the father, the earth is the mother, of all wealth, it will be easily understood that the measures he or his lawyers conceived and enforced have had, for weal or woe, results whose magnitude it would be impossible to exaggerate; and of this I am persuaded, that it is impossible adequately to understand the history of our country, and therefore the history of the Colne Valley, with- out some comprehension of the land laws, if not introduced, certainly consolidated and perpetuated by William the Conqueror. It is certain, and will appear more fully manifest, as this work unfolds itself, that the material progress of this Valley was retarded for many generations by the noxious influences of the feudal system introduced from Normandy in the eleventh century.

Prior to the Norman Conquest, with the exception only of a miserable remnant of Celtic slaves and of those who for crime or debt had been reduced to bondage, all men were landowners, or might have been landowners if they willed. Nor was the condition of the serf a bitter one ave for that bitterness that results from the mere thought of subjection to the will of a master who cannot be changed at will. The serf was well-clad, well-fed, well-housed. By well I mean well according to the standard of comfort of those days. There are millions of the submerged of our boasted civilization who would gladly exchange their lot for that of the serf of ten centuries ago, so little has the march of progress done for them. Above the slave or serf ranked the cottier or owner of a cottage and four acres of land ; above the cottier was the yardling or owner of a homestead and thirty acres of land; above the yardling the thane or dominant owner.

The cottier had to render to the thane assistance in the harvesting of his crops; the yardling had to help the thane in the ploughing and sowing of the demesne, but in return the thane provided the yardling with two oxen for his plough, one cow and six sheep and tools for his work and utensils for his house.

Subject to these aids to their thane, yardling and cottier alike were freeholders and freemen. Upon thane, yardliug, cottier and serf alike rested the obligation of military service for the defence of the country from external assault. By the common law of England the Crown had the right to call upon every man, able to bear arms, to don his harness and take up pike or axe and the good shaft and bow in the hour of his country's need, and those who know our rough island's story know full well the monarch never called in vain. Let the reader reflect well upon the picture I have drawn of the England before the Conquest, remembering always that it was then a country wholly agricultural, and he will understand why, reign after reign, the people clamoured for a restoration of the laws of Edward the Confessor. Those laws or customs, for they were unwritten laws enshrined in the lives and habits of the people rather than inscribed upon the parchment rolls of the Witanagemot, were designed and adapted to the needs and well-being of the people ; but for the needs and well-being of the people William the Conqueror, if we may judge his policy from his enactments, --and how else may it be assessed ?--had no sort of regard whatever. 'Fore ever he set sail from Normandy to put his claim to the crown of England to the touch of the sword, the broad acres of our country were parcelled out among his followers. These followers flocked to his banner from far and near, attracted by the promise of vast rewards, flocked as flock the vultures on the carrion's scent. It was a host of mercenaries that fought under the holy goniflamme blessed by the Pope, and it was to the scourings of Europe that the lands of England were flung when Harold, the last of the Saxon Kings, lay, pierced by an arrow to the brain, upon the shore he had died to defend.

Among those followers was one Ilbert de Laci, whose principal castle was at Lassi, between Aulnai and Val in Normandy. That Ilbert was a man high in the confidence and councils of his prince there can be no question, for to de Laci William gave no less than 2o4 manors in the County of York. He gave them, but gave them conditionally. It appears to have been considered that a yearly income of £20 would suffice to maintain a knight. Twenty pounds in those days would go far. Even in the time of Edward III. the yearly rent of pasture land was 1d. per acre; an ox, stall or corn fed, was valued at 24/-, if grass fed 6/- ; a fat sheep at 1/8 ; a fat hog at 3/4 ; a goose at 3d., and eggs were 24 for 1d. ; whilst ale was 1d. for two gallons in the cities, and for four gallons in the country. In the time of William the Conqueror, three centuries earlier, doubtless, prices ranged much lower, and one need not, therefore, wonder that was deemed sufficient for the yearly maintenance of knight and his household. Now it was further computed that six hundred acres was about the quantity of land required to yield to the knight this twenty pounds. Six hundred acres, then, was called a knight's fee, and this for revenue purposes was deemed to be divided into carucates, plowlands, or hides,--terms all meaning one hundred and twenty acres ; so that five hides or carucates or plowlands made one knight's fee. Each carucate contained eight oxgangs of fifteen acres. For each knight's fee the feudal owner, or more strictly speaking tenant, for the proudest lord was but tenant under the King, must render to the Crown certain military services and other aids with which we are not now concerned, and into which we need not enter.

The point with which we are concerned is that so long as the knight rendered those services duly and faithfully, the king and his ministers cared not one jot what he did upon his estate. He might seize and confiscate, he probably did seize and confiscate, the holdings of the yardling and the cottier ; he might rob, murder, ravish, he doubtless did rob, murder, ravish on his own estate, and the central government heeded not. Each lord within his manor erected his Court Baron, over which his steward presided, and in that Court the lord or his steward had power over life and limb and goods. A castle frowned from some towering eminence in which the lord or steward dwelt, and deep down in the bowels of the earth, beneath the castle's base, were dungeons into which were flung the malefactor and the not less wretched, if innocent, being who had incurred the wrath of the Lord or his minion. All this may seem to have little to do with the History of the Colne Valley, but without it some of the facts I shall have to relate would seem strange reading to some of those who will peruse these pages.

It is obvious then, that the new system of land tenure introduced by William was designed with one object, and one object only,--the military support of his throne. He had won it by force, and it was to be kept by force. It was essential that William should know how many knights' fees, carucates, hides and plowlands there were in his.realm. To this end he appointed Commissioners who traversed the land from North to South and East to West, and compiled what is known as Domesday Book--the only good act of William's life for which we owe him anything but curses. The Commissioners were bidden "to enquire, by oath of the sheriff of the shire, and of all the free tenants, and of the French-born of them, and of the whole hundred ; of the priest, the reeve, and six villans, from each Will the name of the manor, who held it in the time of King Edward the Confessor, and who held it now (1o86), how man/hides there were in each manor, how many plows on the domain, how many men, how many villans, how many cottiers, how many bondsmen, how many freemen, how many socmen (freeholders), how much wood, how much meadow, how much pasture ; what mills,* what fish-ponds ; what had been added or taken away, what it was worth, in the time of King Edward, and how much it was worth now (1086) ; how much each freeholder held ; and whether more could be got out of it than now."

From this venerable compilation, which is still carefully preserved, we are able to derive some interesting information. 

IN ODERSFELT, Godwin had six carucates of land to be taxed, affording occupation for eight ploughs. Now the same has it of Ilbert, but it is waste, wood-pasture, one mile long and one wide. In the time of King Edward (T.R.E.: Temi#ore Regis Edwardi) it was valued at too shillings. 

IN ALMANBERIE, Chetel and Suuen had four carucates of land to be taxed ; and there may be four ploughs there,--Lewsin now has it of Ilbert and it is waste ; value, T.R.E. three pounds: wood and pasture one mile long and one broad. 

IN GULDEAGSCAR (Golcar), Leuine held half a carucate of land to be taxed, and there may be half-work for one plough. Now Dunstan holds it of Ilbert, but it is waste; T.R.E., it paid ten shillings : wood-pasture, one mile long and half a mile wide. 

The whole of the district of which this History treats is comprised in one or other of the above extracts, and from them we learn practically all that written muniments have to teach concerning this district, as it was eight hundred and twenty years ago. We gather that in the time of Edward the Confessor all the parts hereabout were in the hands of four Saxon Thanes, Godwin, Chetel, Suuen or Sweyn, and Leuine. We may also infer from the terms of the record that after the battle of Hastings they made their submission to the Conqueror, with what groanings of the spirit we may easily surmise. We gather also that in this district there was wood-pasture, i;e., it is to be presumed, woods in which the swine might feed, of some seven square miles in area. The monetary value of this spacious area, even allowing for the great difference in money value between that day and this, was inconsiderable. The portion of the demesne of Marsden, indeed, is, in an Inquisition of the reign of Edward III, expressly described as a forest two and a half miles long and two broad, and used by the lord as a hunting ground, it being one of the conditions on which the villeins held their holdings that they should escort the lord from Marsden to his chief castle at Pontefract, either personally or with one horse and man. 

I have said that within the confines of his own manor the Lord claimed to be supreme. If proof of this were needed, it may be found in the Return of certain Commissioners appointed in the reign of Edward I, toward the end of the thirteenth century. They find 

"That the Wapentake of Agbrigg is in the hands of the King, That the Earl of Lincoln (De Laci) and the Earl Warren have the return of writs and estreats (i.e. forfeitures), the first ab antiquo (from ancient times), the second for forty years : and they say that the said earls do not allow the bailiffs of the Lord the King to execute any office in his own lands; but that they (the earls) execute all such offices by their own bailiffs. That the steward of the Earl of Lincoln tries cases of felony in the Court of Almonbury, which is of the Liberty of Pontefract, for the last six years past. That the bailiffs of the said earls take and keep possession of waifs :,Also that when the bailiffs of the Lord the King were about to execute their accustomed office in Scamenden and Crosland loss, the bailiffs of the Earl of Lincoln, for the space of four years past, would not permit them. 
br> "Also Hugo, Constable of Almonbury, Robert de Marcheden (Marsden), and Henry Odelin apprehended a certain thief, and took from him 9s. 7d., and allowed him to escape after keeping him for two days; and the wife of the said thief they also took and imprisoned at the house of Hugo of the loss in Crosland, but how she escaped they know not. The same Hugo apprehended another thief, and kept him imprisoned at his own house for six days, and afterwards let him go, but why or after what manner they know not." 

This Return of the Commissioners is evidence of the well-known fact that the Crown was engaged in a determined effort to curb the truculency of the great nobles and to assert the supreme authority of the State ; an effort which the barons resisted often by taking up arms against the monarch to whom they had sworn fealty and allegiance. 

We have seen that the Colne Valley was conferred by William upon Ilbert de Laci. This Ilbert de Laci erected a formidable stronghold at Pontefract, but he had a minor castle on Castle Hill in Almondbury, in which, doubtless, his steward resided, and to that castle the tenants of the Colne Valley must perforce resort to render their suit and service, just as for many centuries later they went to Almondbury to be married. It is desirable very briefly to follow the descent of the manor up to the time of the acquisition of these estates by the Crown. Without this some of the subsequent narrative would be unintelligible.

Ilbert de Laci, then, was succeeded by his eldest son Robert de Laci. In the reign of Henry I., the third son of William the Conqueror, both Robert and his son Ilbert were in arms against the Crown. It is unnecessary here to particularise the causes of the rebellion. At the battle of Tenchebrai Henry crushed the revolt of his insurgent vassals. The estates of Robert de Laci were declared forefeit for treason, and were conferred first on Henry Traverse, and subsequently upon Guy de la Val, both of which nobles were, therefore, for a time feudal lords of the Valley of the Colne. In the reign of Stephen, however, (1135-1154) young Ilbert de Laci, his father having, presumably, died in prison, made his peace with the king, and was restored to the family dignities and estates. We have next a tedious succession of de Lacis, with whose names we need not cumber these pages, till we come to John de Laci, who married the daughter and heiress of the Earl of Chester and Lincoln, and was, in 1232, created Earl of Lincoln by charter. The grandson of this Earl of Lincoln, and who at the same time, it must be remembered, was feudal overlord of the district with which this History is concerned, Henry de Laci, flourished in the reign of Edward II., probably the weakest and most incompetent monarch who ever wielded the sceptre of this realm. Edward surrounded himself with continental favourites and parasites drawn from his continental possessions, upon whom he squandered the wealth of the national exchequer, and to whom he compelled the proudest of his nobles to give their daughters in marriage. The baronage of England resented the presence at Court of these alien parasites of the king, and Henry de Laci placed himself at their head. He died, however, before the quarrel was decided, but, on his deathbed entrusted to his son-in-law and successor, Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster, the husband of his only child and heiress, Alice, the furtherance and maintenance of the cause he had embraced. He is said to have addressed him in the following noble words: " See'st thou the Church of England, heretofore bonourable and free, enslaved by Romish oppressions and the King's unjust exactions? See'st thou the common people impoverished by tributes and taxes, and from the condition of freemen reduced to servitude ? See'st thou the nobility, formerly venerable through Christendom, vilified by aliens in their own country ? I therefore charge thee in the name of Christ to stand up like a man for the honour of God and His Church and the redemption of thy country." Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster, to whom this solemn exhortation was addressed, was twelfth Lord of the Manors of Huddersfield and Almondbury within which were comprised the whole area of the Colne Valley, though, as we shall see hereafter, by sub-feoffment the practical enjoyment of some parts of it had passed into the hands of subfeofees or sub-tenants. He was a grandson of Henry III., a prince of the blood and cousin-german of the King. He was not unmindful of the dangerous charge laid upon him by his father-in-law. He placed himself at the head of a formidable body of the discontented nobility, raised a considerable following, but was overcome by the royal forces at Boroughbridge (1322), taken prisoner and brought captive into the presence of the victorious monarch in his own castle of Pontefract. He was executed before the walls of that fortress, having been condemned to be " drawn for his treason, hanged for his robberies, and beheaded for his flight," though one cannot help feelin that if he were effectually punished for his robberies, it was of not much consequence what they did to him for his flight. The last part of the sentence was the only part carried into execution. The Earl was led forth from his castle, set on a lean white horse without a bridle, accompanied by a friar preacher for a confessor, to whom he cried, "Fair father, abide with me until I am dead, for my flesh quaeth for dread of death." It is interesting to know that Henry Tyes or Tyas, the sublord of Slaithwaite, was a partisan of the Earl of Lancaster, and, like his chief, paid the penalty of his treason with his life. Richard de Wleys, sub-lord of Honley, also espoused the cause of the great Earl, but his life was spared, though his lands were confiscated, and he was subjected to a fine of 2,000 marks in money, about £1,300, a very considerable sum if we remember the value of money at the time. But "skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." <

He died without issue, his lands were confiscated to the Crown,--thus for the second time did the overlordship of the Colne Valley revert to the Crown. His brother Henry, however, was high in favour with Edward's successor, the third Edward. He was constituted Captain-General of the King's forces in Scotland at the time when practically that Kingdom was won for England. The attainder placed upon his unfortunate brother was reversed in his favour, and Henry became Lord of the Manors of Huddersfield and Almondbury. His son Henry was, in 1352, created Duke of Lancaster. He died without male issue, and the estates passed to his daughter Blanche, who married John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward ]II. What student of Shakespeare has not read of John of Gaunt, "time-honoured Lancaster ?" He for a short time was overlord of the Colne Valley. His son, Henry of Bolingbroke, became King of England, Henry IV., and so the Overlordship of the Colne Valley was once again vested in the Crown. 

It cannot be too emphatically insisted on that it is with the overlordship only with which we have up to now been concerned. Tenants in capite or in chief, such as were the de Lacis, were not, till the reigns of the second and third Edwards, permitted to sell or transfer their fees out and out. They evaded this restriction upon the enjoyment of their rights of ownership by a process of subinfeudation or subletting in perpetuity. Golcar and Slaithwaite, we shall see, had, long before the period at which we have now arrived, been in the beneficial ownership of other families, though Marsden long continued in the hands of the Crown.