Chapter 2: After the Conquest

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Chapter 2: After the Conquest
Mongeham Manors
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A battle is lost

William defeated Harold Godwinson at Battle, near Hastings, in 1066. The battle, the power struggle between the ambitious Godwin family and Edward the Confessor, and the involvement of William of Normandy would make a cinematographic epic to rival any dramatisation of mythical heroes such as King Arthur or Robin Hood. It has forbidden love, intrigue, treachery and.bloodshed leavened by loyalty and courage. And it really happened.


Wadard was a knight in the entourage of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and half brother of William the conqueror. Wadard is one of the few people named in the Bayeux Tapestry. He held lands in many parts of Kent and Sussex including Northbourne, the next village to Great Mongeham


Part of the Bayeux Tapestry showing Wadard, a horseman, who issues orders, oversees the collection of food and the confiscation of animals from peasants whose houses are depicted in the background.

But the full story is beyond the scope of this history. I will confine myself to an incident which may have touched on our village.

Godwin became Earl of Wessex and controlled most of Southern England. He and his family held large estates in East Sussex and Kent. They were accomplished sailors and had influence in the Cinque Ports, particularly Sandwich, Dover and Hastings. King Edward wanted to break the family’s power.  In 1051 Eustace of Boulogne visited king Edward on a mission, the purpose of which has not been recorded. He and his entourage returned from Canterbury via Dover. They provoked a quarrel with the townspeople and killed more than twenty men. Nineteen of Eustace’s followers were killed. Eustace escaped and returned to the king. In light of subsequent events it appears that Eustace was acting as agent provocateur. The king ordered Godwin to ‘carry war into Kent to Dover’ to punish them for what had happened to Eustace. The Earl was ‘reluctant to injure his own province’ so would not consent to the expedition. Godwin’s refusal to act provided an excuse for his arrest and exile. The following year Godwin and his sons sailed up the channel, calling at the ports of Romney, Hythe, Folkestone, Dover and Sandwich and assembling a great fleet before sailing up the Thames. Reinstated by the king, Godwin was now more powerful than ever.


Kent is governed by the customary law known as gavelkind. This differed radically from the familiar pattern of Norman feudalism. Essentially, the gavelman held his land by a money rent, charged at the very moderate rate of 1d an acre. Land holdings were divided into fields, a pattern which would change very little right up to the twentieth century. Strip farming which was a common practice in the rest of feudal England was rarely, if ever,  practised in Kent. In consequence there is no common land in this part of Kent. Tenants did not have to contribute regular week-work on the lord's demesne.  However at peak periods of the farming seasons they were required to do a little ploughing, reaping or fencing, or some rather more onerous carting or carriage, as "boon-work". They were paid to work on the demesne lands and perhaps also on the lands of the villans. Again unlike usual feudal practice, sons could inherit land from a father convicted of a felony. Hence the old rhyme, “The father to the bough (hanged), the son to the plough (works the land)”

The whole sequence of these events could not have passed unnoticed in Great Mongeham, situated as it is in the middle of the triangle formed by Canterbury, Sandwich and Dover. Perhaps men from the village joined Godwin. Perhaps some of them were with Harold at Hastings.

The story of the defeat of Godwin’s son, Harold at Hastings is well documented, and is beyond the scope of this history.

After defeating Harold William’s first priority was to secure Kent. His forces took Dover and Canterbury and then he made peace with the men of Kent. Tradition says that it was in the face of strong opposition that William was forced to come to terms although it was more likely that he was in a hurry to consolidate his hold on the rest of the kingdom. However we in Kent have taken the epithet Invicta(unconquered) to this day (see page 30). More importantly Kent kept much of it’s customary law called gavelkind right down to the nineteenth century. This had an effect on the manorial system which was not as rigid in Kent as it was elsewhere. A major consequence of the Conquest for Great Mongeham was that the manor, which was held in its entirety by St. Augustine’s was now divided. The eastern part was given to Wadard, one of Bishop Odo’s men.

Population of the Village

Although the Domesday Book only records male householders it is possible to make a rough estimate of population. Some will be single men and others will have large families. If the sample is big enough it averages out at roughly four people per household. With twenty bordars on the Abbot’s manor and two bordars and eight villans on Wadard’s land we can calculate a population of roughly one hundred and twenty.

The Domesday Book gives us a good insight into the situation of the Mongeham manors just two decades after the Conquest. The Mongeham entry is just eleven lines of abbreviated Latin but contains a wealth of information. The western manor, held by the Abbot of St. Augustine’s had the church, the mill and the woodland. We can use the information provided in this entry to supplement our conjectural image of the ninth century village. Broadly speaking not much had changed in the intervening two centuries. The demesne lands, which made up at least half of the manor, were managed by a bailiff whose dwelling possibly would have been where Great Mongeham farmhouse now stands. He would supervise the work of the twenty bordars who lived in the village. Each had a holding of between one and five acres which provided subsistence living and not much more. In the Middle Ages land farmed by the lord of the manor was known as demesne land. The demesne had four plough teams and together the bordars shared another. A plough team consisted of eight oxen. Those bordars who owned an ox contributed it as required for the plough team. It they needed to they may have been allowed to use the demesne plough teams on their own land. The miller probably operated the mill on a part time basis, and he paid a  rent of sixteen shillings a year to the abbot. Some of the other bordars would have had skills such as carpentry and smithing which helped supplement their income. In the following years  spinning, weaving and baking also became more specialised.

Wadard’s manor was subordinate to Mongeham manor and he paid the Abbot thirty shillings a year. As well as two bordars there were eight villans on his land. They had land holdings of twenty or thirty acres, or even more. Villans and bordars together owned four ploughs. Gavelmen (that is those under the law of gavelkind) could buy and sell their land freely, and may have built up appreciable landholdings within the manor. Their land was inherited by ‘partible inheritance’, it was  shared between surviving sons. Often younger sons sold their share to older sons and used the money to seek their fortunes elsewhere. New manors are being carved out of the more marginal lands on the Weald of Kent, and provided opportunities for enterprising young men. Towns such as Sandwich, Canterbury and Dover were growing, and provided a magnet for young men looking for adventure.  If the landholder had no surviving male heirs, then his daughters could inherit. In most of Norman England male primogeniture was the rule, and land could only pass to a single male heir, be he an eldest son or nephew. Villans lived on scattered homesteads beyond the village but within the manor.





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