The city of Norwich, chapter 2: Of the city under the Saxons and Danes

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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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No sooner were the deserted Romans and Britons conquered by the Saxons, but they divided their conquests into seven kingdoms, each King erecting castles and fortifications in his dominions for his own defence, and then in all likelihood was this castle first made, and that most probably in the time of

Uffa, the first King of the East-Angles, soon after the year 575, and from this time it increased much, for about 642, it became a royal castle, and one of the seats of

Anna King of the East-Angles, (fn. 1) whose daughter Ethelfred, according to Mr. Cambden, (fn. 2) married Tombert, a nobleman or prince of the Girvij, (fn. 3) and with her he gave him this castle, with the lands belonging to it, as Spelman in his Icenia intimates; (fn. 4) for about 677, he and his wife Ethelfred or Etheldred, who founded Ely, granted to that monastery certain lands held of Norwich castle by castle-guard, to which service they must have been liable before the grant; for by the laws of the Saxons, lands granted to the church were not liable to secular service, unless they were first imposed on them when they were given to secular men, (fn. 5) which proves this was a royal castle, and had demeans and large possessions in King Anna's time; from thence I meet with no account of it till the Danish wars, and then it was often won and lost by the contending powers; but when

Alfred the Great had wholly subdued the Danes, the author of his life tells us, that finding the earth walls which encompassed the Saxon fortifications not strong enough to resist a furious enemy, he erected strong castles and forts of brick and stone, and among others, improved the fortifications of this castle, and (as I think) erected the first castle of brick and stone that ever was built here; that he was here, and that this was a royal castle in his time, and a place of note, is evident from a coin struck here about 872, having this round the head, ÆLFRED REX. and a monogram or cipher, NORDWIC. on the reverse; (fn. 6) this King, on making peace with the Danish King,

Gutrum, assigned him the country of the East-Angles, and gave him this castle for his royal seat, which he did not long enjoy, Alfred, upon Gutrum's breach of promise, not to join any Dunes that should land in England, dispossessing him of it; he died in 901, and was succeeded by

Edward the elder, who kept the Danes in subjection, Ericke their King holding these provinces of him peaceably till 913, when he rebelled, and being overthrown and killed by King Edward, he added the East-Anglian to his own dominions.

Æthelstane, his son, totally expelled the Danes, and brought the whole into one entire monarchy, so that in his time, by reason of a settled peace, this city flourished much; about the year 925, we may suppose him to have been here, there being a coin of his then struck still extant; round the head is this, ÆTHELSTAN. on the reverse is a cross in the midst, and this round it, BARBE MOnetarius de NORDWIC. (fn. 7) i. e. Barbe Mintmaster of Northwic. This King died in 941, and left

Edmund, his brother, his successour, of whom we have a coin struck in this city, with his name round his head, viz. EADMUND. REX. on the reverse EADGER MOnetarius de NORDWIC. (fn. 8) i. e. Edgar Mintmaster of Northwic. In his time the city increased in wealth and extent, as it did also in the time of his successour,

Edred or Eldred, as is evident from the money made here by that Prince, about 946, with this, EADRED. REX. and on the reverse HANNE MOnetarius de NORDWIC. (fn. 9) i. e. Hanne Mintmaster of Northwic; and indeed it flourished very much under him. According to Mr. Watts's collections, (fn. 10) the government in the city of Norwich began in 952, in the reign of King Edred, Eldred, or Etheldred, from which time, he says, it was governed by a Sergeant, named by the King, to hold courts, set fines, and amerciaments, and collect the King's customs and revenues, as was done in other towns of merchandize; but I believe nothing of it, never finding any thing like it, but the contrary, namely that it belonged to the King, and Earl who governed under the Kings, and had the third part of the profits annexed to their earldom for so doing. He was succeeded by

Edwin, and he by

Edgar, who made Alwyn, or Edelwyne, the alderman, his kinsman, governour of the Angles, who much increased that people's ease and welfare, both in this King's reign and that of his son,

Edward the Martyr, of whom there are two coins extant, which were coined about the year 973, the first has round his head, EDWERD RECX]. and on the reverse, leo[fw]ine. on nor: (fn. 11) thwic. i. e. Leofwine Mintmaster of Norwich; the other also hath edwerd rex: and leo[fw]ine on nordwwic. as before. This Edward was succeeded by

Ethelred, commonly called the Unready, of whom are also three coins extant, which were made here; round the head of the first is E[th]ELRED REX. ANGLOrum, and on the reverse, LEOFAT MOnetarius de NOrthwic. (fn. 12) i. e. Leofat Mintmaster at Norwich; the second hath E[th]ELRED REX ANGLOrum, BRANTING MOnetarius de nor[thw]ic. i. e. Branting Mintmaster of Norwich; the third is like the last, only it was struck when Folceard was Mintmaster here, it having on the reverse FOL[C]EARD MOnetarius de NOR[th]WI[c]. In his time the Danes began to stir, and so far conquered the King's forces, that he was obliged to let them enjoy these parts quietly, which encouraged them so, that in 981 they invited more forces hither, and so harassed the King, that in 991 he agreed to pay them 10,000l. which he levied by the name of Dane-geld, [G]eal[d] signifying in the Saxon language a tribute or tax, which being paid, contrary to their promise, they returned the very next year, and continued their daily incursions, till 994, and then the King was forced to give them 16,000l. more, which so encouraged others of that nation, that they entered the next year, and forced him to a composition of 20,000l. and so increased it till it came to 40,000l.; this reduced the English so much, that they became little better than servants to them, being forced to till the ground, while the idle Danes devoured the produce, the natives fearing them so much, that they called them Lord-Danes, whence afterwards, by way of derision, came the word lurdan, signifying a lazy idle fellow; the kingdom being thus weakened, the King contrived a way to dispatch all the Danes at once, which was executed on St. Brice's day, Nov. 13, 1002; but this was so far from answering his intent, that it only put them upon meditating revenge for the fact, insomuch that Swain, who, ever since the year 994, had, according to his promise, been a friend to England, became now as great an enemy, determining to revenge the death of Gunhild, his sister, Palingus, her husband, and their son, who, though they were all Christians, and laid in hostage on condition of peace, were nevertheless slain in this massacre; getting therefore all things ready, the very next year he came and razed Exeter to the ground, and did other mischief, but hearing the King approached, and not thinking himself quite strong enough, he returned, and having got a great force, came with his whole fleet directly up to Northwic, and entirely burnt and wasted the whole city, so that from this time we must begin the date of the present city, the old one being entirely demolished; and this indeed is the first mention that I any where have seen of this city, by the name of Northwic or Norwich, otherwise than on the Saxon coins; the account of this, is recorded in the Saxon Chronicle, p. 133, in thse words, (which may serve for a specimen of the language of that time;) [see original, page 7] That is to say: "In the year 1004, Sweyn came with his fleet to Northwic, and entirely wasted and burned that city, upon which, Ulfkytel (Earl of the EastAngles) called a council of the East-Anglian nobles, (at Thetford,) who resolved to purchase peace of the Pagans (i. e. the Danes) before they damaged those parts, being obliged to it by their sudden approach, and coming upon them unawares, which gave them no time to raise their forces; but notwithstanding the peace thus made, the Danes privately withdrew from their ships (at Norwich) and went towards Theodford; as soon then as Ulfketel understood it, he sent a messenger directly to the neighbouring country, and commanded them to burn their ships, but they neglected to perform that command; in the mean time he got his forces together as soon as he possibly could; three weeks then alter they had destroyed Northwic or Norwich, they came to Theodford or Thetford, and staying there one night only, they burnt and destroyed that place also; but in the morning, as they marched back towards their ships, Ulfketel met them with his forces, upon which there followed a sharp engagement, and great slaughter on both sides, many of the East-Anglian nobles being slain, but had the whole (Anglian) forces been joined, the Danes had never returned to their ships, as themselves, as well as the English, acknowledged." Upon this, they betook themselves to their ships, and left Norwich quite desolate, which continued so till 1010, when they returned again and settled here; and in 1011, having entirely subdued the East-Angles, it is reasonable to think, they then refortified this castle, the works or fortifications of which are plainly Danish, as is evident from the rotundity of them, they being exactly like their castle, camp, or fortification (call it which you will) at Thetford; and from this time the present city took it rise, and as it were a refoundation.


  • 1. The kingdom of the East-Angles contained Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, or at least part of it, and the Romans called the inhabitants the Iceni, or Ikeys, and by corruption Fikeys, as Higden calls them, they were afterwards called Uffkines, from their King Uffa.
  • 2. Fo. 378.
  • 3. The Girvij were the people that lived in the fenny parts of Norfolk, Cambridge, and Lincoln shires.
  • 4. Spelm. Icenia, int. reliq. ejusdem, fo. 156, 7. Speed 317.
  • 5. Bede, 1. 4. cap. 26, p. 198.
  • 6. Nummis. Fountain. Tab. 1. No. 9.
  • 7. Tab. 11. No. 5. This coin is mentioned in Thoresby's Musæum 346, but the reading, as well as the conjecture there, seems to be wrong.
  • 8. Tab. 5. No. 1.
  • 9. A piece of this was found in Honedon churchyard, near Stoke in Suffolk Ao. 1687. Philosophical Transactions, No. 189, p. 356.
  • 10. Mss. Coll. Mri. Watts Senescalli Civitatis, pen. Helwys, Armig.
  • 11. Mr. John Kirkpatrick, deceased, had one of these; and Mr. T. Harwood, alderman of Norwich, hath one of the second.
  • 12. Nummism. Fountain, Tab. II. No. 31, where it is placed under Æthelred, Anno 866; but it is rather this Æthelred, about 979, as are the other two coins in Table I. No. 12 and 13.