Thetford, chapter 3: Of the city under the Saxons

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.

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Francis Blomefield, 'Thetford, chapter 3: Of the city under the Saxons', An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805), pp. 15-22. British History Online [accessed 19 June 2024].

Francis Blomefield. "Thetford, chapter 3: Of the city under the Saxons", in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805) 15-22. British History Online, accessed June 19, 2024,

Blomefield, Francis. "Thetford, chapter 3: Of the city under the Saxons", An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805). 15-22. British History Online. Web. 19 June 2024,


Of The City Under The Saxons.

The Britons being ruined of all their strength, by the Romans continual carrying off their youth, and now abandoned by their garrisons, which alone could have supported the declining state, fell into miserable confusions, and terrible calamities, occasioned by the barbarians invasions on one hand, and the tumultuous factions of her own great men on the other, striving for the supreme government, every one being for usurping it to himself; and thus (as Ninius tells us) they lived forty years in fear and affliction. (fn. 1) Vortigern, who was then king, fearing attacks from such Romans as remained here, and from the Picts and Scots, and troubled with the opposition of Aurelius Ambrosius, who survived his slain parents, that had worn the imperial robe, sends for the Saxons out of Germany to his assistance, who were called in as friends, but proved indeed the greatest enemies, for after the event of several battles, they dispossessed the poor Britons of the most fruitful part of their country, and ancient inheritance, as Cambden, from Gildas, informs us. Now, agreeable to this account which all authors gives us, we are informed by John Brame, a monk of this place, in his manuscript History in Bennet College Library, in Cambridge, that one Rond, a valiant man of this city, who flourished in the time of King Vortigern, seeing the Roman forces withdrawn and gone, and the remaining Romans sluggish and inactive, and perceiving Vortigern and his army fully employed against the Picts and Scots, he thereupon usurped the supreme government of this city, and became King thereof; and it seems not unlikely but the inhabitants might be well satisfied with it, especially if he was as popular as he seems valiant, for he did not continue idle, when he had got the government, but endeavoured immediately either to gain or subdue his neighbours, and bring them under his power, (fn. 2) which was no bad policy, as things then were, because, by so doing, he made himself and people the stronger to resist the approaching invasions of the Saxons. But alas! neither policy nor strength was sufficient to withstand the growing power of that people, for which reason it seems, from the comparison of history, that he either thought it his interest to join with Vortimer, son of Vortigern, whom the Britons had made King against them, or else was forced to it, for want of power to resist them alone. This Vortimer, with his army of Britons pursued the Saxons very close, overcame them in four principal pitched battles, besides which, "He had dybers conflynctes (with them) in Kente, at Thetforde in Northfolke, and Essex near unto Colchester, lefte not, tyl he had byrafte from them the more parte of such possessyons, as before tyme they had wonne, and kepte them onely to the Ysle Tanet (fn. 3) " But when this noble defence of the British nation fell a sacrifice to the malicious Rowena's poison, and Vortigern his father was again restored to the British throne, Hengist and his Saxons soon entered again, but not caring to give battle to Vortigern, who had a large army with him, under colour of treaty and peace he deceived the too credulous Britons, by a new manner of treason, at that time unheard of; for under pretence of meeting on the plains of Ambrij (now called Salisbury-Plains) on the May Day following, to conclude and treat of peace and amity, Vortigern and his nobles met at the day, and at the watch-word given, were all (except the King) killed by the Saxons, with their long knives, which they had, by Hengist's order, concealed under their clothes for that purpose; (fn. 4) and thus fell the British nobles, and with them all the renown of the British name; for Vortigern being Hengist's prisoner, was immediately forced to give him three provinces in the east part of Britain, viz. Kent, EastSaxon, or Essex, and East-Angles, viz. Norfolk and Suffolk, of all which when Hengist was entirely possessed, he let the King have his liberty. Then began Hengist's reign over Kent, in the year 476, (fn. 5) who gave the other provinces to his generals that had assisted him in his enterprises. And thus this city came into the Saxons hands, of whose first landing and progress it will not be amiss to take some observations from divers authors, who, though they often disagree as to time, yet agree well as to matters of fact.

In the year 449, the Saxons called over by Vortigern first entered this land, under the conduct of Hengist and Horsa, two brethren, who raised their reputation so much among the Britons, by beating the Scots and Picts in two engagements, that they too much trusted to their management, who being pleased with the country, determined to make themselves masters of it, and in order thereto, under pretence of manning the frontier garrisons, and diverting the enemy on the sea coast, sent to the Angles for more assistance, who got together an army out of three provinces in Germany, viz. the old Saxons, the Angles, and Jutes, (fn. 6) and transported themselves hither without delay, and counterfeiting pretences of ill pay, and short diet, they enter into league with the Picts, whom they had made really afraid of them, and so raised a most bloody war against the Britons that entertained them, putting them to the sword, wasting their lands, razing their cities, and at last quite dispossessed them of the best part of the island, which they after divided among themselves into seven kingdoms, thence called the Heptarchy. The Jutes had only Kent and the Isle of Wight; the Saxons had three kingdoms, the East, West, and South Saxons, which were but of narrow bounds, if compared with the large dominions of the Angles, who were the most numerous of the three nations that came over, (fn. 7) as well as the most valiant, for they erected three of the largest kingdoms, viz. Northumberland, Mercia, and the East-Angles, which last contained the tract afterwards divided into the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, and some say Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, as Speed, Cambden, &c.; but Fabian says not; and indeed I am of his mind, for Speed (fol. 326) hath bounded it by St. Edmund's-Ditch on the West, but Holinshed (vol. i. fol. 126) and Stow (fol. 61) and Fabian (fol. 77) have its bounds more plain, viz. that at first it contained Norfolk and Suffolk, and was bounded on the east and north by the sea, on the north-west by Cambridgeshire, on the south by Essex, and on the west by Hertfordshire and St. Edmund's-Ditch, which I believe was its boundary; and that that part of Cambridgeshire on this side the Ditch did belong to the East-Angles. I make no doubt but Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire were part of the Roman Iceni, but cannot think, with Mr. Cambden, that they were included at first in the kingdom of the East-Angles, though they might be afterwards, for Sammes (fol. 63) says, "The Iceni inhabited that part of Britain which the EastAngles did under the Saxons; it comprehended Norfolk, Suffolk, and at some time Cambridge, which

Uffa, (fn. 8) one of the three principals of the Angles, first united into one kingdom, and took the government thereof, in the year of our Lord 575, (fn. 9) and settled at Sitomagus, the prosperity and grandeur of which city is allowed by all authors to be owing to the Saxon kings making it the metropolis of their kingdom of the East-Angles, by placing their chief residence there; and it was now that its new masters gave it the then new name of [Deodford], or Theodford; and from this time was this royal city continually increasing in its greatness and glory, though labouring again under the dark clouds of paganism, and heathenish worship, which her heathen king had wholly introduced. (fn. 10)

I meet with no further account of the acts of Uffa, but that he reigned about seven years, and then left his kingdom to his son,

Titulus, who began his reign in the year 581; and though we find no mention of his acts, we must suppose his days were not quietly spent in the infancy of his new-erected kingdom, which he governed 20 years, having his chief residence here; he lived and died a heathen, and left his kingdom to his son,

Redwald, the greatest of all the East-Anglian kings, and the first that embraced Christianity, from which he afterwards apostatized; he was a warlike prince, and conquered Ethelfrid King of Northumberland; and it is to be observed of this kingdom, above all others, that in its first appearance in history, we find its full proportion, contrary to others, which were raised by degrees only. At first he was tributary to Ethelbert King of Kent, and served him as a viceroy over all his dominions, and managed so well, that at the death of that potent king he became monarch of the Englishmen, and had all his neighbours at his disposal, so that now this city was not only the seat of the East-Anglian king, but the metropolis of all the Saxon government; but he resided not here only, for Rendlesham in Suffolk was another of his palaces, (fn. 11) which place, if we may credit history, received its present name from him; he was baptized in Kent, it seems more in compliance to Ethelbert, than persuasion of the truth of the Christian religion; but yet he was not, like many now-a-days, for rejecting all, but, on the contrary, that he might be sure on one side or other, he erected, in the same temple, an altar for the service of Christ, and another for burnt sacrifices for his idols. He reigned monarch eight years, King of the East-Angles thirty-one, and died, according to Speed, in the year 623.

Erpenwald, his younger son, (his elder brother, who was a strict Christian, being slain by a heathen,) succeeded in the kingdom of the East-Angles, and was the first king of this province that openly professed the Christian faith, at the friendly exhortation of Edwine King of Northumberland, (fn. 12) at which his subjects were much angry, and employed a pagan ruffian, named Richebert, or Rochbert, who murdered him, and thus he fell a martyr to the faith of Christ, after he had reigned twelve years; and leaving no issue, was succeeded by

Sigebert, the son of Redwald's second wife, and half brother to the deceased king, whose father-in-law's jealousies caused him to retire into France, where he instructed himself in good learning, and became a sound professor of the Christian faith; at his return, he brought with him one Felix, a Burgundian, his great acquaintance, and made him Bishop over his whole dominions. In the year 636, (fn. 13) according to the Saxon Chronicle, he was ordained by Honorius Archbishop of Canterbury, and placed his episcopal see at Dommoc, or Dunwich, in Suffolk, a place then of great reputation, and strongly fortified, but not sufficient to withstand the raging ocean, which hath wholly devoured the city, and very near all its suburbs. This Sigebert was the first that introduced the custom of France, to have publick schools; for sending for teachers out of Kent, he settled a place of teaching, generally thought to be the University of Cambridge, says Sammes. (fn. 14) Speed says he built a school for the education of youth, and appointed Kentishmen, who had the liberal sciences professed among them, for teachers, but determines not where; it seems he thinks the contrary. Indeed, it is most likely it was at this city, (fn. 15) for Caius, in his Antiquities of Cambridge, tells us, there was anciently a great school or nursery of learning in this place, for which he quotes an anonymous author, which may perhaps be the same that Bede in his Ecclesiastical History (lib. iii. cap. 18) refers to, when he tells us how Sigebert, after he returned from France, (where he had resided and studied some years, to avoid his father's and brother's jealousies of his aspiring to the crown,) and was settled in his kingdom, built a school for the education of youth, in imitation of those he had seen in France; but Bede not mentioning the place where it was fixed, it has been doubted whether it was not at Cambridge, though the royal seat of the East-Anglian kings being then at Thetford, Dr. Caius (fn. 16) seems rightly to conjecture that it was here. This King resigned the government to

Egrick, his kinsman, who became a monk in Cumbersburgh (fn. 17) abbey, which he had founded, and there he lived, till Penda, that wicked King of Mercia, with his heathenish cruelty, troubled the East-Angles' peace, who besought Sigebert to encourage his soldiers by his appearing in his army, and forcing him from his convent thither, he was slain, refusing to use any weapon but a white rod only, after he had reigned three years, before he quitted the government. With him was slain Egric, or Egrick, whom he had made king, and had reigned four years.

Anna, son of Ewide, brother to Edwald, succeeded Egric; he bare the character of a good man, but was in continual wars with Penda and his heathens, whom he withstood nineteen years, (fn. 18) but was then killed by them, and buried at Blitheburgh in Suffolk, with Firminus his brother, who was killed in the same battle, and buried with him, but afterwards was translated to St. Edmund's-Bury. Etheldred, Ethelburgh, and Sexburgh, his daughters, were all royally married, and after their deaths canonized.

Ethelherd, or Æthelhere, brother to Anna, became King in the year 655, according to the Saxon Chronicle, and siding with Penda, against his own brother and kinsman, was deservedly slain, in the second year of his reign, and was succeeded by

Edelwald, his brother, who reigned nine years, and left

Aldulf, eldest son of Ethelherd, his heir, who reigned nineteen years. In his time it was, that Theodore Archbishop of Canterbury visited all the parts of this land, being the first archbishop to whom all the English churches acknowledged their obedience; (fn. 19) he ordained bishops where he thought convenient, and made what reformation he thought necessary, especially in causing all the churches to observe the feast of Easter according to the usage of the church of Rome; to effect which he called a general Synod, where all the bishops of the land were present, either in person or by their deputies, Holinshed (fol. 179) says that it was held December 24, Ao 673, at Herford, Howel (fn. 20) says at Hereford, and historians disagree as to the exact time and place. I must own, I imagine that neither of the aforecited authors are right, but think that this Synod was held at Thetford, about the year 669, which falls in this King's reign, and do not only ground my supposition upon the easy mistake, which might be in reading of the ancient manuscripts, there being only a letter or two difference between Herford and Tetford, but I find some of our Chronicles absolutely asserting it, Ralph Higden, in his Policronicon, (lib. v. p. 239,) hath it thus, "Anno 669, facta est Synodus Episcoporum sub Theodoro apud Tetford, in qua statutum est, primo, de recta Paschæ observatione; secundo, ut nullus Episcoporum alienam parochiam invadat; tertio, ut Episcopi monasteria non inquietent; quarto, ut clerici et monachi passim non migrent, absque licencia superiorum; quinto, ut saltem semel in anno Synodus congregetur in provincia." Which Trevisa hath also in his Policronicon, in these words, "That yere was made a Synode of Bysshopes under Theodorus at Tetforde. In that Smode was ordeyned a Statute of the ryght holdynge of the Esterivde: the second, that no Bysshay sholde assoyle, in another mannes Bysshopeyche. The third, that Byshops shold not dystourbe abbayes. The fourthe, that clarked and Monkes sholde not change benefyces, withoute lebe of theyr sobe rayns. The fyfthe, that in a provynce the Smode sholde be gadred ones in a yere" (fn. 21) And what makes me the rather conclude this Synod to be held here, (fn. 22) is, because among the Bishops said to be present, Bisi, then Bishop of the East-Angles, is named first after the Archbishop, (fn. 23) according as he ought to be, by reason, as I take it, of his authority in the bishoprick, where the Synod was held, and for that reason it was also, that the life of this Bishop only is touched upon by the same author; this Bisi was consecrated Bishop of the East-Angles by Theodore himself, and though his see was at Dunwich, where is it more likely that a Synod should be held in his province, than at its metropolis, which was Thetford? That being also a far more convenient place than Dunwich, which, without doubt, he looked upon as inconveniently situated for the see of so large a bishoprick, else he had never divided it, as he did, and placed a newerected see at North-Elmham in Norfolk. I am well aware that many may wonder that he should not place it at this royal city, but I must observe all agree, that in these early times bishopricks were placed in towns that were small at first, (before they increased, as they usually did, by the see's being placed there,) and remote, as places best suiting contemplation and prayer; and from the time of the bishoprick's being placed there. some make a doubt whether Elmham or Thetford ought to be esteemed the metropolis of the province, as Fabian, (fn. 24) who says, "And of this lordshoppe, at that dayes mas Elman or Thet forde the thefe towne."But there remains no doubt of it, Elmham then was a small village, Thetford a large city, and the King's residence, and if so, no doubt the metropolis, or chief place in the province.

Elswolf, Eltwolde, Arkwoldf, or Elohwaldus, Adulf's brother, reigned seven years. (fn. 25)

Beorne, or Hisberna. youngest son of King Ethelherd, reigned after him twenty-six years, (fn. 26) and was succeeded by

Ethelred, son of Edelwald, brother of Anna, cousin to Beorne, a man noted for virtue and goodness; he is supposed to reign about fifty or fifty-two years, and died in 748, and left his kingdom to

Ethelbert, or Egilbert, his son, a learned and religious prince, charitable, sober, profound, and wise, according to all historians; he reigned forty-five years, and was taken off (as Sammes says) in 792, (Speed says, May 18, 783,) by the treachery of Offa King of the Mercians, who by fair promises of giving him his daughter in marriage, drew him to his court at Sutton-Wallis, in the county of Hereford, and there, against all the laws of nature and common hospitality, he had his head struck off by one Winnebert, or Grimbert, and his body was at first privately buried at Morden on the river Lug; but after, on remorse of conscience, Offa removed it to Hereford, over whom Milfrid, an under king of the Mercians, built a most fair church to his memory, which yet bears his name, and is the cathedral of that see; (fn. 27) but notwithstanding this splendid kind of repentance,

Offa takes possession of the inheritance of the murdered king, laying the country of the East-Angles to his own dominions; but this vineyard, as it was bloodily obtained, lasted not long in him or his posterity, the Danes breaking in like wild boars, laying it waste not long after. And now Thetford began to decline in its grandeur; Holinshed tells us, (fol. 197,) that from this time of Ethelbert's murder, the kingdom of the East-Angles was brought so into decay, that it was sometimes subject to the Mercians, sometimes to the WestSaxons, and sometimes to Kent, till Edmund the Martyr obtained its government: (fn. 28) and this account is very true, for about 826 they received

Egbert King of the West-Saxons for their lord and king, (fn. 29) and invading the Mercians, slew Bernulf their king, and the next year they set upon Ludicenus, Bernulf's successour, and slew him also, which so encouraged Egbert, that he openly invaded Mercia, conquered Whitlafe their king, Ludicenus's successour; and so, by means of the East-Angles, the Mercians became subject to the West-Saxons, as a just retribution for the unjust murder of Ethelbert King of the East-Angles, whom Offa their king had murdered, and they had assisted in seizing his kingdom. This Egbert was afterwards proclaimed king of the whole land, the other kings being tributary to him. At his death he left two sons, Ethelwoulf, or Athaulf, whom he ordered should succeed him in the kingdom of the West-Saxons, and

Athelstan, to whom he gave the government of Kent, Sussex, and Essex, with the rest of the countries he had subdued, (viz. the East-Angles, &c.) it seems the kingdom of Kent, Essex, &c. came to

Ethelwoulf, before his death, for he then assigned them to his second son, (fn. 30)

Ethelbert, or Ethelbright, who began his reign in 857, and after his brother's death, was governour of the whole, and as such acknowledged in the year 867; and thus the kingdom of the East-Angles, and consequently this city, from the murder of Offa, to this time, was destitute of her own governours for the space of seventy-five years, or, as Mr. Speed computes it, seventy-seven, (fn. 31) till the assaults of the Danes caused the other kings to stand upon their guard, and rather defend what they had, than seek to enlarge their territories, to the hazard of all: and then this kingdom revived again, though during this time it seems the heir to the East-Anglian crown was well known, and perhaps held it tributary under the aforesaid masters, though I meet with none of their names till now, whence it appears that they were in a servile state, and consequently their city in a declining condition all the time, till

Offa, to whom the right of the crown at that time belonged, upon a religious devotion, went in pilgrimage to Christ's Sepulchre, and having no heir, he visited his kinsman Alkmund by the way, and adopted Edmund, his son, his heir, who after his death succeeded him accordingly, and was crowned King of the East-Angles, being the last king of the Saxon race, of whom I must treat in the next chapter, his history being so blended with that of the Dancs, that I am obliged to it, to avoid repetition and confusion.


  • 1. See Speed. Gibson's Camb.
  • 2. The account of his expedition against Atlinge, which I mentioned under Atleburgh, may be likely, who also might be another of those great men that had gotten the title, at least, of King, during these confusions. See my History of Atleburgh. I am sensible how the great Sir Henry Spelman, and all since him, that have wrote on this subject, most of which have only copied him, look upon this monk, as a mere fabulous writer. But I have endeavoured already to set aside that notion, for such reasons, as I think, will be allowed by most men, and I am sure this account of Rond, corresponding so exactly to the time, as well as accounts of all history whatever, is so far from making me conclude, with the editors of the Atlas, that it "is not to be regarded, being altogether fabulous," that with me, it adds much to the reasons I have elsewhere given, in defence of this author. See vol. i. p. 501.
  • 3. Fabian, fol. 71.
  • 4. Stow, fol. 52.
  • 5. Fabian, fol. 73, others say, 455, whom Speed follows.
  • 6. Saxon Chron. to which Sammes agrees, fol. 349, where there is an account of the disagreement of writers as to time. Baker's Chron. fol. 4, Stow, fol. 51.
  • 7. And so they might well be, for the Saxon Chron. says they deserted their whole country, and voluntarily left it to be divided between the Jutes and Saxons, their next neighbours. See Sammes, fol. 549.
  • 8. His people were called Uffines, from him, many ages after.
  • 9. Sammes, fol. 549, agrees with Speed, fol. 294. Fabian says, 492. Holinshed, vol i. 126, says, about 561.
  • 10. Fabjan, fol. 74.
  • 11. Sammes, fol. 550.
  • 12. Mr. Sammes mistakes in making him converted by Felix.
  • 13. Godwin. de Præsulibus, p. 479, says, Ao 630.
  • 14. Holinshed, vol. i. fol. 172, seems positive for Cambridge.
  • 15. Atlas, 339.
  • 16. Page 148.
  • 17. Rightly Cnobersburgh, now BurghCastle in Suffolk; see Holinsh. vol. i. fol. 172.
  • 18. Speed says 13 years. Higd. Policron. l. iii. 236, says he was slain Ao 655.
  • 19. Holinshed, fol. 178, and Policron. lib. v. fol. 208, b. Godwin. de Præs. p. 60.
  • 20. Synopsis Can. fol. 14. Godwin. do Præs. p. 61.
  • 21. Trevisa's Policron. lib. v. fol. 209.
  • 22. Mason, in his Accounts of the Church, p. 26, l. 24, says that Theodorus Archbishop of Canterbury held a provincial council at Thetford, about keeping of Easter, &c.
  • 23. Holinshed, fol. 179.
  • 24. Fabian, fol. 77.
  • 25. Holinsh. fol. 190, says 12 years.
  • 26. Ibidem.
  • 27. Holinsh. fol. 194, 196.
  • 28. Ibid. fol. 196.
  • 29. Ibid. fol. 203.
  • 30. Ibid. 207.
  • 31. Speed, fol. 328.