The city of Norwich, chapter 9: Of the city in Henry II's time

Pages 30-35

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 3, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part I. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1806.

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As soon as Henry, son of Maud the Empress, was crowned, he began to set aside many that were relations, or had been friends to Stephen, and in the very first year of his reign, resumed into his hands, from William, the bastard son of King Stephen, Earl of Moreton and Warren, (fn. 1) this city, castle, and liberties, but restored all those lands to him which his father held in the reign of King Henry I. as a recompense for it, and so it came into Henry the Second's hands, who this very year prevailed with Hugh Bigot to yield up all his castles to him which he did accordingly, (fn. 2) by which the whole right vested in the Crown, and the King governed the city by the sheriff for some time, who paid the profits and aids accruing from it, into the Exchequer; and this year, viz. 1155, William de Nova Villa, or Nevil, sheriff of Norfolk, paid 50 marks for the aid due from the city. (fn. 3)

In 1158, the city gave the King 414l. 13s. 4d. for the second scutage of Wales; (fn. 4) it is called a donum (fn. 5) or gift, and it appears they levied it among themselves, but paid it into the Exchequer by the hands of John, then sheriff of Norfolk; and in 1160, the sheriff accounted for 200l. for the tallage of the city for that year. (fn. 6)

In 1163, Pope Alexander III. confirmed to Bernard the Prior, and monks of Horsham St. Faith's, all their lands and houses in Norwich and Yarmouth, which were given them in alms. (fn. 7)

About this time, Hugh Bigod came again into favour with the King, (fn. 8) by means of Henry the King's son, who did him what service he could, in order to draw him over to his party, whenever he should put in execution the design he had of wresting the crown from his father; yea so much was he in the King's good graces, that he advanced him anew to the dignity and title of Earl of Norfolk, as by his charter, dated at Northampton, appeareth, by which charter also he had a grant of the office of steward of the King's household, to hold and enjoy it in as ample a manner as Roger Bigod his father held the same in time of Henry I.; and at the same time he was made Constable of the castle of Norwich, and the city, being in the king's hands, he became sole governour of it, the sheriff from this time acting under him as to the city.

In 1165, the 26th day of January was a great earthquake here, and all over Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, so that many could not keep themselves on their feet, and the bells rang in several steeples with the shock of it. (fn. 9)

This year Willium de Norwich certified into the Exchequer, that he held a whole knight's fee of old feoffment in Suffolk, of Nigel Bishop of Ely, for which he now paid one mark to the fifth scutage, being the aid for marrying Maud, the King's eldest daughter, to Henry Duke of Saxony; and in 1171, he paid 20s. to the sixth scutage for the army in Ireland: which shews us that this ancient family, that took its surname from this city, was of good repute and estate in Henry the First's time, being then infeoffed in this fee in Suffolk. (fn. 10)

In 1167, the burgesses of Norwich paid 200l. towards the aid (or portion) for marrying the King's daughter, and the mintmasters at Norwich paid 10 marks, according to the writ directed for that purpose. (fn. 11)

In 1170, the desire of the King was such, that though he had caused all the kingdom to be twice sworn to his son Henry, he was not satisfied, but had him crowned with all usual solemnities, by Robert, Archbishop of York, on the 14th (or as Mat. Paris says, on the 18th) day of June: the generality of historians attribute this unprecedented example wholly to the great affection he had for his son; (fn. 12) but I think it might proceed from another motive: the King well knew he was a young man of a great spirit, and desirous of rule, and, I make no doubt, saw that many of the principal nobles of the land, as Bigot and others, were entirely at his command, and finding he should be busied in Normandy and other places beyond sea, where his lands lay, he invested him with the full regal authority, that he might not rebel, under hopes of getting it in his absence, but might exercise it at that time, to his own, and the nation's advantage, so that though it hath been looked upon as a foolish act, it might not be done so weakly as may at first sight be imagined; but yet so much is the desire of rule in some, as was seen by this young King's conduct, that they cannot bear a superiour, nor even an equal to themselves in power, for being with his father-in-law, the French King, in France, in 1172, it is thought he spirited him up against his father; for the next year he fled to him, and raised war in the King's dominions beyond sea, against him: Roger Mowbry, Hugh Bigot, and divers others of the young King's accomplices, for joining him against his father, took care to get under his seal, charters, confirmations, &c. (fn. 13) of lands and revenues for their services, among which Hugh Bigot got this castle, city, honour of Eye, &c. confirmed to him and his heirs; all this was done at Paris, and immediately after, they waged war against the old King, and got the King of Scots to enter England, on behalf of the young King, at once to harass the father with foreign and domestic war.

In 1173, Robert de Bello-mont, surnamed Blanchmains, Earl of Leicester, who took part with the young King, assembled a great army at Leicester, but was immediately beaten by the old King's party, and forced to fly into France, and was present at the interview between the old King, and Lewis the French King, between Grisors and Trie, where the King made such large offers for peace sake, to his sons, that had it not been for this wicked Earl, (who then offered to strike his sovereign,) and such others like himself, there had been a final accord then made; but that not happening, the Earl of Leicester in a few days passed over into England with a great army of Flemings and others, to join Hugh Bygod, that they might, as well by force as fair means, bring the whole realm under the obedience of King Henry the son; on the 21st of September, he landed at Walton in Suffolk, and went to Framingham castle, where Hugh Bigot received him, and there they tarried till another fleet of Flemings came to their assistance, and then marched to Ipswich, and staid a few days, till they augmented their forces with some band of soldiers that belonged to Hugh Bigot, and thence went directly to the castle of Haghenet, (or Haughley in Suffolk,) which then belonged unto Ralph Broc, who adhered to the old King, which they took, spoiled, and burnt, and then returned to Framlingham, where hearing that the Countess of Leicester, his wife, was arrived at Oxford with another power of Flemings, having now a strong army, he took leave of Earl Bigot at Framlingham, and went to succour his friends in Leicestershire, but he was got no further in his march than a village called Fornham, near St. Edmund's Bury, before Sir Richard de Lucy and Humfry de Bohun came out of that town, and overcame him in a pitched battle, on the 27th of October, and took him and his Countess prisoners, and put to the sword above 10,000 Flemings; (fn. 14) after this, the nobles immediately sent the Earl of Leicester and his wife prisoners to the King in Normandy, and went directly against Earl Hugh, on purpose to abate his pride, and might have easily done it by taking him prisoner, but by reason of such sums of money as he bribed them with, peace was granted him till Whitsuntide following, and so his castle at Framlingham was not taken; soon after this, having gotten together 14,000 Flemings, he went through Essex to Dover, and so to France. (fn. 15)

The next year, being 1174, Philip Earl of Flanders, on the behalf of King Henry the son, swore that he would enter England within 15 days after the Feast of St. John, upon trust of which the young King came down to Whitsand, the 14th day of July, that he might the more conveniently send his soldiers into England; but before this, the Earl of Flanders had sent over Ralf de La Haie, and 318 knights, or men of arms, who arrived at Orwell in Essex the 14th of June, and finding their associates dispersed, and for the more part subdued, they took with them Earl Hugh, and marched to Norwich, which the Earl thought would have willingly received him; but the citizens stood firm in their loyalty to the old King, and resisted him in the best manner they could: the Earl hasting thither with all speed, reached the city on the 18th of June, and not being immediately received into it as he expected, he assaulted it directly and won it, they having had no time to consult upon the best way of defending it, and being very wrath with the citizens for endeavouring to resist him, he burnt the city, got all the riches he could, took all the principal persons prisoners, and made them fine and ransome themselves at his pleasure; (fn. 16) and entering the castle, fortified it, by deepening the ditches in the strongest manner he could, and then received into it as many French and Flemings as it would contain; Holingshed, fo. 91, says, that Will. Parvus (or Petit) writeth "that the city of Norwich was taken by the Flemings that came over with the Earl of Leicester in the year last past, and that after he had taken that citie, being accompanied with Earl Bigot, he led those Flemings unto Dunwich, to win and sack that town also, but the inhabitants being better provided against the coming of their enemies than they of Norwich were, shewed such countenance of defence, that they preserved their town from that danger, so that the two Earles with the Flemings, were constrained to depart without atchieving their purpose; but whither this attempt against Dunwich was made by the Earl of Leicester, (before his taking (fn. 17) ) in companie of Earl Bigot, I have not to avouch: but verelie for the winning of Norwich, William Parvus I suppose mistaketh the time, except we shall saie, that it was twise taken, (fn. 18) as first by the Earl of Leicester in the yeare 1173, for it is certain by consent of most writers, and especiallie those that have recorded particularlie the incidents that chaunced here in this land, during these troubles, betwixt the king and his son, that it was taken now this year 1174, by Earl Bigot."

The king was advised how Earl Bigot and Roger Mowbray strengthened themselves against him, and began to prepare accordingly, but his party soon after prevailing, and taking the King of Scots prisoner, gave such a turn to affairs, that when Bigot heard the old King was mustering an army against him at Bury, he began to be afraid, and was more so when he found that he had taken his castle at Walton in Suffolk, and demolished it, (fn. 19) and was coming to his other castles of Framlingham and Bungeye, wherein having no more than 500 soldiers, (many of which discerning their danger, fled away,) dispairing also of any further supply, he was forced to buy his peace of the King for 1000 marks, and yield up all his castles, having with difficulty obtained leave, that all the Flemings with him at Norwich, and elsewhere, upon taking an oath never to come into England as enemies again, might return into their own country, as well as all the soldiers that came with Ralf de La Haie: this agreement was made on July 25, and immediately the King ordered the castle of Bungeye to be demolished, and took this castle, city, and all that belonged to them, into his own hands; Earl Hugh going soon after into the Holy Land, where he died.

By this means the city was very much damaged, but the citizens were henceforward much valued by the King for withstanding his enemies, and showing their loyalty to him, upon which account to make them some amends, they were allotted to pay the King in the year 1175 only 16l. for the whole profits of their city. (fn. 20)

Daniel, fo. 88, under the year 1176, says that the King in his parliament then assembled at Notingham, caused the kingdom to be divided into six parts, (now called circuits,) and constituted for every part three justices itinerants to try assizes of murder, theft, &c. But I find itinerant justices trying assizes here before this year; for in 1168, the Archdeacon of Poictou, Wido the Dean, and Will. Basset, were itinerant justices here: in 1173, Ralf de Glanvill and Hugh de Cressi, Robert Mancel, Adam de Gernemue, (or Yarmouth,) &c. Hugh de Cressi, (fn. 21) Walter Fitz-Robert, and Robert Mantel, were deputed for Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, and Hertfordshire; so that it seems the circuits only were now first fixed.

From this time the city began to recover itself by the King's clemency and encouragement, the whole being in his Majesty's hands till 1182, and then the citizens petitioned the King for their liberties to be restored, to which he consented for a fine of 80 marks, (fn. 22) and granted them a charter of the same liberties as they enjoyed in the time of Henry I. his grandfather, and in the time of King Stephen.

The original Charter is now extant among the city evidences in the Gild-Hall at Norwich, and is very fair and clean, part of the seal still remaining; it is the oldest original Charter that I have seen, belonging to any corporation, and by much the oldest of any in this county, for which reason I shall give it you, word for word, as in the original:

Henricus Rex Anglie, et Dux Normannie, et Aquitanie, et Comes Andegavie, ombibus Archiepiscopis, Episcopis, Abbatibus, Comitibus, Baronibus, Justiciarijs, Vicecomitibus, Ministris, et omnibus fidelibus suis Francis et Anglis, salutem. Sciatis me concessisse, et presenti carta confirmasse burgensibus meis de Norwico, omnes consuetudines et libertates et quietencias quas habebant tempore Henrici Regis avi mei, ita plene et honorifice et quiete sicut ipsi eas plenius et honorabilius et quietius habuerunt tempore Regis Henrici avi mei. Quare volo et firmiter precipio, quod omnes illas habeant, plene et honorifice sicut eas tunc habuerunt, tam consuetudines suas, quam etiam responsa sua, tempore meo, et temporibus heredum meorum, et si aliquis post mortem Regis Henrici avi mei, in tempore Regis Stephani, a consuetudinibus eorum et scottis se foras misit, precipio quod ad eorum societatem et consuetudinem revertatur, et scottum ipsorum sequatur, quia nullum ex eis inde quietum, clamo. Testibus, Willielmo fratre Regis, Henrico de Essexia, Constabulario. Ricardo de Humes, Constabulario, manasse Biset Dapifero, Warino filio Geroldi, Camerario; apud Westmonasterium.

Henry King of England, and Duke of Normandy and Acquitain, and Earl of Anjou, to all Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls, Barons, Justices, Sheriffs, Officers, and other his faithful subjects, both French and English, greeting. Know ye that I have given, and by this present Charter confirmed to my burgesses of Norwich, all customs and liberties, and acquittances, (fn. 23) which they had in the time of King Henry, my grandfather, as fully and honourably, and quietly, as they had them fully, and honourably, and quietly, in the time of King Henry, my grandfather; wherefore I will and firmly command, that they have them all, fully and honouraby as they then had them, as well their own customs, as those they are answerable (fn. 24) for, in my time, and in the times of my heirs, and if any one after the death of Henry, my grandfather, in the time of King Stephen, hath absented (or withdrawn) himself from their customs and scots, (fn. 25) I command that he shall be forced to return to their society (or company) and custom, and shall be forced to pay the same scot as they do, because I claim no one of them free therefrom. (fn. 26) These being witnesses, William the King's brother, Henry of Essex the Constable, Richard de Humes the Constable, Manasses Biset (Steward) or Sewer, Warine Fitz-Gerold the Chamberlain: (given) at Westminster.

There being no date, to show at what time this was granted, if the evidence before quoted had not helped us out, we should have been at a loss to have known it, as we now are, as to the precise time of the year, though by its being granted when the King was at Westminster, it must be about August time.

It is plain the citizens were much pleased with their regained liberties, and put them very exactly in execution; and indeed in 1184, they carried the matter too far, for when some citizens were warned to serve as jurymen, either at the views of frankpledge or court leets, belonging to the King's castle, or at the leets belonging to the others, though it was within the city, they refused serving, and pretended exemption from so doing, by this charter; but the affair being tried, they were cast, and paid a fine of 9 marks to the King, (fn. 27) and were commanded to serve for the future, in that leet or view wherein they dwelt.

This King died in 1189, and was succeeded by Richard, his second son; Henry, his eldest, who was crowned King, dying long before him; and happy had it been for this city, if he had never been crowned at all.


  • 1. Cambden, 387. Atlas, 312. Tirrel's Hist. vol. ii. p. 239. Daniel, fo. 68.
  • 2. Dug. Bar. vol. i. 132.
  • 3. Rot. Pip. 2 H. 2.
  • 4. Mag. Rot. 5 H. 3. Madox Hist. Exch. 437.
  • 5. The word donum, which is commonly rendered a gift, at that time signified any tax, (as scutage, carvage, &c.) given or granted by the people to the Crown, and indeed the annual fee-farm of the city is in many records called donum, a gift, it being first given the King for their liberties.
  • 6. Madox, 482.
  • 7. Mon. Ang. vol. i. p. 416.
  • 8. Bar. 132. Hol. &c.
  • 9. Stow, fo. 152, &c.
  • 10. Lib. Rub. Scacij.
  • 11. Mag. Rot. 14 H. 2. R. 28. Norff. Madox. Hist. Exch. p. 410.
  • 12. Daniel, 78. Fabian, 317. Atlas, 312, &c.
  • 13. Hol. vol. ii. fo. 87.
  • 14. See vol. i. p. 3.
  • 15. Daniel, fo. 86. Hol. 90.
  • 16. Mat. Paris.
  • 17. It is most likely he made the attempt, and was repulsed, before he landed at Walton; for it seems as if he designed first to have landed at Dunwich.
  • 18. It was not twice taken, and it is a mistake of the time when, and persons who did take it.
  • 19. Dug. Bar. vol. i. 133.
  • 20. Mag. Rot. 22 H. 2. R. 3. a.
  • 21. Hol. vol. ii. fo. 97.
  • 22. Cives Norwici dant 80 marc. pro liberratibus suis habendis. Mag. Rot. 29 H. 2. Rot. 2. B. Norff. and Suff.
  • 23. That is, power of granting acquittances in the King's name, for the profits of the city, as land-gable, tolls, &c. which they according to their old custom were yearly to return by their Provost.
  • 24. The responsa are all such things, as customs, tolls, &c. which the citizens were responsible or answerable for to the King, including those due from foreigners, as well as from the citizens, which by this they had a power to levy, the person from whom they were due, being responsible to them, as they were to the King: though some think that the responsa here means the power of hearing and determining all actions relating to themselves, among themselves, which I can by no means think.
  • 25. Scot is a portion, or shot, (as we now call it,) so that scot and lot is an allotted or certain portion, or customary payment of any dues, as tolls, land-gables, &c.
  • 26. This shows the design of the thing: many had heretofore refused paying scot and lot as citizens, and sheltered themselves under the jurisdiction of the King's castle, but henceforward no one should do so; and more than that, if the burgesses could prove that they ever paid scot and lot as citizens, they should be forced to do it again.
  • 27. Mag. Rot. 31 H. 2. Rot. 3 a.