A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2003.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
EARLY MEDIEVAL CHESTER 400-1230
Sub-roman and early english chester
Although in the early 8th century Bede called Chester a city (civitas) and clearly knew of it as a Roman place, he said nothing about later activity there. (fn. 1) Nevertheless, despite the silence of the documentary sources, the site's enduring importance suggests that some form of occupation may have continued after the Roman army left. The legionary fortress had acquired an increasingly significant civilian role in the last century of its existence, and may have remained the focus of some kind of territorial unit. By the time of the Northumbrian king Æthelfrith's victory over the British in 616, Chester was in territory associated with the British kingdom of Powys and was perhaps the seat of a branch of the royal dynasty of the Cadelling, whose representatives were prominent in the battle. The fact that a little later, lands to the south, in Shropshire, were in the hands of a different dynasty suggests that the Cadelling who fought at Chester were confined to Cheshire and north Wales, and hence likely to have made use of the fortress. (fn. 2) Under their rule, too, the area was ecclesiastically important. The city was probably the scene of a synod of the British Church shortly after 600, and just to the south there seems to have been an early mother church at Eccleston. Further south was the great monastery of Bangor (Flints.), c. 1,200 of whose monks were allegedly slaughtered by the Northumbrians at the battle of Chester as they prayed for a British victory. (fn. 3)
The only material traces of the period from Chester are a few sherds of amphorae; dating perhaps from the 5th or 6th century and found within the legionary fortress, they are similar in form to vessels from other high-status sub-Roman sites in western Britain. (fn. 4) After 616 even such exiguous evidence is lacking. All that can safely be said is that, despite the Northumbrian victory, Chester and its environs soon passed under Mercian domination, and that a 12th-century tradition that one of the city's two early minsters, St. John's, was founded by the Mercian king Æthelred in the late 7th century may therefore have something to commend it. The church's extramural site, its close association with the Anglo-Saxon bishops of Lichfield, and the burial rights which it shared with the other early minster, St. Werburgh's, all tend to confirm its antiquity. (fn. 5) The church was presumably a prominent building, and its clergy and their households an important constituent of the population; its location may show that settlement had moved away from the legionary fortress.
One other possible indication of early Anglo-Saxon occupation is the place-name Henwald's Lowe (later the Gorse Stacks), also extramural and just north-east of the Roman fortress. Henwald's Lowe became common land, and its name, a combination of an Old English personal name and Old English hlaw, 'mound' or 'hill', may indicate an early aristocratic burial. (fn. 6)
In 893 Vikings raided Chester, then 'a deserted city in Wirral'. (fn. 7) Although that description has led to the assumption that the site was waste from the 7th to the early 10th century, (fn. 8) it need not be so interpreted. The raid, which culminated in the Danes' occupying the city and being besieged there for two days while the English ravaged the surrounding districts, may well have been prompted by an awareness of the city's growing economic and strategic importance, lying as it did near a direct route between the already closely linked Scandinavian kingdoms of Dublin and York. (fn. 9) In any case, such desertion as there was can have been only temporary. The area south of the legionary fortress was occupied by the late 9th century; in particular, a site at Lower Bridge Street has yielded the remains of a small sunken-featured hut, a late 9th-century brooch, and sherds of a Carolingian jar imported from northern France. (fn. 10) Moreover, from c. 890 Chester is the most likely site of a mint known to have operated in north-west Mercia. (fn. 11) By then, therefore, the city was presumably a place of some importance.
The 10th-century refortification and reoccupation
The history of medieval Chester can be said to begin only in 907 with the refortification of the site by the ruler of Mercia, King Alfred's daughter Æthelflæd. (fn. 12) The background to that event was the establishment of a Hiberno-Norse community in Wirral after its expulsion from Dublin in 902. It seems that the exiles, led by Hingamund, were granted land in Wirral by Æthelflæd and her husband Æthelred but soon afterwards cast covetous eyes on the wealth of Chester, only to be repulsed by the great army which she assembled in the city. The story, although preserved only in a late source, has been shown to be reliable in essentials, and confirms that any desertion of the city was temporary. (fn. 13)
The location of the walls erected c. 907 is unknown. That, as might be expected, Æthelflæd adapted or at least reused in part the Roman defences is suggested by the laying of a gravel road parallel to the inner side of the walls in the early 10th century. (fn. 14) Such an action implies that the Roman west wall, which later disappeared, was then largely intact; in the 12th century Holy Trinity church was apparently built upon the remains of its gate, and its line was still traceable in the 14th century, when refuse was dumped into the foundations. (fn. 15) The Roman walls were perhaps refurbished in their entirety as a defensible inner core, the total enceinte being enlarged by extending the north and east walls to the river to form an L-shaped fortification with the Dee as the main defence to the south and west. The length of walls kept in a defensible state seems to have been consonant with a formula recorded for Wessex in the Burghal Hidage, which stated that every hide of land assigned to the maintenance of a burh sufficed to provide one man, and that every pole (c. 5 metres) of fortress wall required four men to defend it. The formula probably applied to Chester, whose reeve in the mid 11th century used to call up one man from each hide of the county to repair the walls and bridge. Cheshire was probably notionally assessed at 1,200 hides, suggesting that the early medieval defences were c. 1,524 metres long. Though those measurements do not tally with the length of the Roman walls they would fit quite well with the postulated L-shaped arrangement. (fn. 16)
Defences in that form are also consistent with signs of late Anglo-Saxon, perhaps 10th-century, occupation in Lower Bridge Street, north of the river but outside the Roman defences. (fn. 17) Moreover there are indications that the wall which runs south from the south-east angle of the Roman fortress to the Dee dates from before 1066. Though it is no longer possible to accept without qualification the suggestion that Wolfeld's Gate, which was in that stretch of wall, bore a Scandinavian personal name most likely to have been used before 1066, the fact that the wall divided the burh proper from 'Redcliff' remains significant; (fn. 18) 'Redcliff' was the focus of the ecclesiastical enclave known as the bishop's borough, which was probably from early times surrounded by its own ditch. (fn. 19)
Evidence of late Anglo-Saxon occupation in the form of sherds of the locally produced pottery known to archaeologists as Chester ware has been found throughout the town, both within the legionary fortress, especially near the main central complexes and the Northgate, and further south between the fortress and the river. (fn. 20) Other indications of activity include the remains of a bone-working industry at Abbey Green near the Northgate, (fn. 21) and traces of domestic timber buildings, both simple sunken-featured huts and larger residential halls, in the centre of the fortress at Hamilton Place, Crook Street, Hunter Street, and Hunter's Walk. (fn. 22) It therefore appears that the refortification not only gave protection and fresh impetus to an existing extramural settlement near the river but also heralded a reoccupation of the legionary fortress itself.
Chester and the west saxon rulers, 907-40
Between 907 and 921 further forts were built over an area which stretched from north-east Wales to Manchester. Chester thus became the focus of complex garrisoning arrangements, initially to monitor Viking settlement. (fn. 23) Cestrians may at first have welcomed Æthelflæd: she was half Mercian and had married Æthelred (d. 911), the ruler (patricius) of Mercia, whose origins are unknown but who was almost certainly descended from the Mercian kings. (fn. 24) After Æthelflæd's death in 918, however, her brother King Edward the Elder seized and imprisoned the Mercian heir Ælfwynn, Æthelred and Æthelflæd's daughter. That coup d'état, essentially a West Saxon takeover of the remains of Mercia, was clearly much resented. The king's visits to Cheshire and north Wales in 919 and 921, which resulted in the building of three new burhs, may well have been as much to suppress the consequent local unrest as to deal with the Vikings. Eventually, in 924, the men of Chester revolted in alliance with the Welsh. Edward went again to the North-West, took and garrisoned the city, but died shortly afterwards near by at Farndon. At the time Chester was thus clearly seen as a military centre of great importance, whose contacts with the Hiberno-Norse and north Wales rendered it particularly sensitive. (fn. 25)
The accession of Æthelstan in 924 restored the burh's fortunes. The king, who had been brought up at the court of his aunt Æthelflæd, was popular with and well disposed towards his Mercian subjects. (fn. 26) During his reign Chester retained its strategic significance because of its command over the route to Dublin and its proximity to Wales, whose princes' relations with the West Saxons were always ambiguous. In 937 it may well have sheltered Æthelstan before his victory over the Scots and the Dublin Norsemen at 'Brunanburh' (probably nearby Bromborough), (fn. 27) and it was again crucially placed in 942 when there was collusion between the Welsh and the Scandinavian kingdom of York during King Edmund's campaign against the latter. (fn. 28)
Chester was the administrative as well as the military centre for the district involved in its maintenance as a royal fortress. Above all, it was the site of the court for a shire which may have originated in the early 10th century and certainly existed by 980. (fn. 29) The area involved was large: it presumably comprised the 12 hundreds of Cheshire listed in the Domesday Survey, and possibly for a while included south Lancashire as well. (fn. 30) The city had an important mint, whose activities, at least in the earlier 10th century, were almost certainly supervised by royal officials, (fn. 31) and whose exceptional productivity is a clear indication that Chester mattered to kings. (fn. 32) Its fortunes mirrored those of the city. Having flourished under Æthelflæd, when it produced coins of distinctive north-western design, it reverted to more standard types when Edward the Elder took over, probably because of the intrusion of new moneyers from the South. (fn. 33) Under Æthelstan, when coins first had a securely identifiable Chester mint-signature, a distinctive type was again issued, one which eschewed the portrait head of the alien West Saxon kings. Remarkably, the mint then became the most prolific centre of coin production in England, rivalling London in importance. (fn. 34)
The new burh was also the centre of important ecclesiastical developments. Late and unreliable traditions alleged that the body of St. Werburg was carried to Chester in 875 and installed in a minster refounded in her honour. (fn. 35) The minster undoubtedly existed by 958, (fn. 36) and on balance it seems likely that Æthelflæd was responsible for the translation and refoundation after 907, since she had engaged in similar activities elsewhere. By the 13th century St. Werburgh's was closely associated with the cult of St. Oswald, also favoured by Æthelflæd and perhaps also introduced by her to Chester. (fn. 37) The installation of such respected Mercian relics suggests that the burh was regarded not simply as a garrisoned fortress but as a major centre of authority, the focus of attempts to conciliate local resentment of the West Saxon incomers.
The hiberno-norse community
Chester was well placed to take advantage of local traffic along the Dee and, more importantly, long-distance seaborne trade. From the 10th century onwards it developed connexions with Ireland and with Scandinavian settlements all round the Irish Sea. The importance which the Norse of Dublin, for example, attached to the link is apparent in their attempts to set up fortified quaysides, harbours, and navigation points along the north Welsh coast to ease the journey between the two ports. (fn. 38) Chester almost certainly contained a sizeable Hiberno-Norse community involved in the Irish trade, located south of the legionary fortress in the quarter next to the early harbour where the clearest evidence for pre-Conquest settlement has been found. Huts excavated in Lower Bridge Street have been interpreted as of the bow-sided type especially associated with Scandinavian sites in England, and what was perhaps the name of a gate in the city walls in that quarter, Clippe Gate, may have derived from the Old Norse personal name Klippr. (fn. 39) The dedications of the two churches in the area, St. Bridget and St. Olave, were also appropriate for a Hiberno-Norse community. St. Olave's cannot have come into being before the mid 11th century, since the dedicatee, the Norwegian king Olaf Haraldsson, was killed only in 1030; St. Bridget's, however, could well be earlier. The dedication was especially likely to have been favoured by immigrants from Ireland and was used also at West Kirby, in the Scandinavian settlement on Wirral. Moreover, since the medieval parish of St. Bridget's at Chester was in two portions, separated by parts of other parishes, it was perhaps once larger and had been eroded by later foundations. The church was probably the first to serve the Hiberno-Norse in Chester and dated from the period of their settlement in the city. (fn. 40)
The settlement may well have extended across the river into Handbridge, which in 1086 was assessed for tax in carucates rather than the hides normal in Cheshire. Carucates occurred elsewhere in the county in association with Scandinavian place-names, and appear to be evidence of Scandinavian settlement. (fn. 41)
Archaeological finds have confirmed a HibernoNorse presence in Chester. In particular, a brooch with Borre-Jellinge ornament found at Princess Street is identical with a brooch found in Dublin, and must have derived from the same mould. (fn. 42) There is evidence, too, for contact with the Isle of Man. Chester has yielded several ring-headed pins of a Hiberno-Norse type very like examples found in Man, and fragments of jewellery from a hoard deposited at Castle Esplanade c. 965 have also been interpreted as similar to material from a hoard found on the island. (fn. 43)
The mint and trade in the 10th century
The Hiberno-Norse community was much involved in coining. As early as the reign of Edward the Elder (899- 924) one of the moneyers in north-western Mercia bore the name Irfara, a Norse nickname meaning 'the Ireland journeyer', and there continued to be a strong Scandinavian and Gaelic element among the names of Chester moneyers, much more pronounced than at other west Mercian mints, throughout the 10th century and beyond. (fn. 44) The discovery of an ingot mould in Lower Bridge Street suggests that metals may have been worked near the Hiberno-Norse settlement, perhaps in connexion with the mint. (fn. 45) The mint was involved in trade which passed along the Irish Sea routes, though the interpretation of its marked fluctuations in output is far from certain. (fn. 46)
The mint at Chester seems to have risen to prominence quite suddenly, c. 916-18, the time of Æthelflæd's most notable victories over the Welsh and the Danes. At her death in 918 it was well established, with perhaps 16 moneyers. (fn. 47) Under Æthelstan (924-39) at least 25 moneyers worked there, with probably as many as 20 striking at any one time, compared with 10 in London and 7 in Winchester. That represented the zenith of Chester's activity. (fn. 48) Thereafter, though still relatively important, the mint lost something of its dominance. In the reigns of Edmund I (939-46) and Eadred (946-55) there were c. 17 moneyers, and in the troubled reign of Eadwig (955-7 in Mercia, 955-9 in Wessex) as few as 11. (fn. 49) Under Edgar (957-75) the mint became very active again, and there were c. 20 moneyers working there in 970. (fn. 50)
Despite the fluctuations the mint remained of at least regional importance until the early 970s: a Chester moneyer was chosen to strike a coin for the Welsh king Hywel Dda (d. 949 or 950), (fn. 51) and the city was a diecutting centre for a region which included at least two other mints, Derby and Tamworth (Staffs.). (fn. 52) Chester moneyers were heavily involved in establishing the Derby mint in Æthelstan's reign, (fn. 53) and some sharing of moneyers, coin types, and dies among all three centres continued for most of the 10th century. In Edgar's reign before the reform of the coinage Chester sent dies and moneyers to other mints to help with production. (fn. 54)
Thereafter, however, the mint lost its importance. It took only a modest part in the reform of the coinage in 973, and in the late 10th century output declined steeply and die-cutting ceased entirely. Although there was a recovery in its activities in the early 11th century, it never again rivalled the great centres of London, York, and Winchester. (fn. 55)
The mint's extraordinary productivity in the earlier 10th century is rather puzzling. Proximity to the mines of north Wales, believed to have yielded silver along with the lead which was their chief product, has been adduced as a reason for its unusually high output, but there is no evidence that Wales ever produced silver in the quantity necessary for the vast numbers of coins minted in Chester. More plausibly, it has been suggested that the city was the centre for the collection of bullion and tribute acquired by Æthelflæd and Æthelstan as a result of their military victories over the Danes and the Welsh princes. (fn. 56) Although there is nothing to suggest that Æthelstan ever exacted tribute on the scale or with the regularity necessary to sustain the output of the mint in his reign, (fn. 57) large amounts of bullion were probably obtained from the Vikings of the western Danelaw, either as plunder from those who had resisted and fled, or as offerings from those who wished to reach an accommodation with the new regime. (fn. 58)
The extensive coinage may also have been stimulated by a favourable balance of trade. Presumably Chester was a centre for the export of valuable commodities needed in Ireland, the bullion received in return being made into coin on the spot for circulation in England. That trade would naturally have been focused on Dublin, which by the mid 10th century had become the principal port of the Irish Sea and one of the richest of all Viking towns. The extent of the traffic between the two centres is apparent from the large amount of Chester ware exported to Dublin by the time of Æthelstan. (fn. 59) Other exports possibly included salt, much needed in Dublin to preserve fish and treat hides, (fn. 60) disc brooches and other items of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, (fn. 61) cloth, and slaves. (fn. 62) The importance and value of the last commodity has almost certainly been underestimated. The Dublin Norsemen's continuing need for slaves, (fn. 63) apparent from the long-lasting trade with Bristol, (fn. 64) was probably serviced, as later, by those penally enslaved and by captives taken on the turbulent frontier between England and Wales, for whom Chester would have been the obvious market. (fn. 65)
Trade between Chester and Dublin was not all one way. The large number of 10th-century coin hoards from Ireland and western Britain, in which Chesterminted coins were very prominent, points to a considerable outflow of silver from Chester. (fn. 66) Although the hoards may have been looted from England, the fact that their age-structure was consistently different from that of contemporary English ones suggests that the coins had a local circulation in a country otherwise lacking them, and hence that they were used in trade. (fn. 67) The avoidance of portraiture by the Chester mint before 970 may have been partly to accommodate the taste of the Norsemen of Dublin. (fn. 68)
Almost nothing is known of the goods imported into Chester from Dublin. Later evidence suggests that they were mainly furs, hides, fish, and agricultural produce. The only commodity known to have been imported before 1066 was marten furs, the subject of a royal right of pre-emption and therefore probably a high-value item. Almost certainly they came via Dublin, where they are known to have been a prized export. (fn. 69)
Chester, then, was probably a very busy emporium in the earlier 10th century. Yet excavated finds from the city have been few, especially from the area south of the legionary fortress where the early medieval harbour was located. (fn. 70) Possibly the main trading centre lay elsewhere; Meols, for example, at the north end of Wirral, appears to have been connected to Chester by a Roman road and has yielded a great variety of finds from the late Anglo-Saxon period, including metalwork, pottery, and a single Hiberno-Norse coin, though as yet no evidence of settlement. (fn. 71)
The discovery at Coppergate in York of a lead customs tag produced at the Chester mint in Eadwig's reign, and apparently attached to merchandise under the supervision of royal officials, suggests a crossPennine trade in Irish goods imported at Chester. (fn. 72) The prominence of Chester coins in southern England in the earlier 10th century during periods of fairly slack minting in London implies a further trade route running between the South-East and the North-West, along which Chester coin passed to purchase commodities in the South for export to Ireland and the Western Isles. The rise and fall of such different trade routes may help to explain fluctuations in the production of coin at Chester in the 10th century. (fn. 73)
The decline of the Chester mint has long been attributed to a Viking raid on Cheshire in 980. (fn. 74) Three of the four Anglo-Saxon coin hoards found in the city, those from Castle Esplanade, Pemberton's Parlour, and Eastgate Street, (fn. 75) have been assigned to roughly the same period and interpreted as linked to that raid. (fn. 76) A period of dereliction after the end of occupation in the harbour area in the south of the city has also been thought to reflect its effects, and it has been argued that the rise of Bristol and the beginning of Chester's eclipse as the principal port for the Dublin trade dated from that time. (fn. 77) Coherent though it is, that picture requires modification. In particular, it is clear that Chester did not play an important part in Edgar's reform of the coinage c. 973, well before the raid. The number of moneyers declined dramatically from c. 20 immediately before the reform to a mere five or so during the reform itself. Such small numbers continued throughout the reign of Edward the Martyr (975-8) and during the early issues of Æthelred II (978-1016), and were associated with a huge decline in output and the end of die-cutting at Chester. Die production for the Reform issue was centred upon London and Winchester, but most major mints quickly re-emerged as die-cutting centres, Chester alone among the great northern mints continuing to receive its dies from Winchester until the 990s. (fn. 78)
Assessment of the decline is also affected by redatings of the Chester coin hoards. Those from Castle Esplanade and Eastgate Street were probably deposited c. 965 and c. 970 respectively, well before the renewal of Viking hostilities in the Irish Sea. (fn. 79) Only the Pemberton's Parlour hoard is likely to have been buried in 980 at the time of the Viking raid. (fn. 80) That raid has been overused as a reason for the decline of the Chester mint and cannot account for the catastrophic falling-off in 973, presumably part of some more general process since the other north-western mints, especially Derby, show a like pattern. (fn. 81) One possible explanation lies in long-term economic developments. The shift away from the north-western mints towards those of eastern England in the late 10th century may have owed as much to changes in trading patterns in response to the opening up of the German silver mines in the 960s as to the disruption of traffic across the Irish Sea. (fn. 82)
Chester and the ealdormen and earls of mercia
Chester's economic fluctuations in the 10th century were accompanied by changes in the local administration, most notably by the rise of strong local ealdormen whose interest in the city eventually eclipsed that of the king. Such figures could be expected to take considerable profits not only from customs and tolls levied in the city but also from the mint. (fn. 83) Late Anglo-Saxon Chester was one of those towns where the moneyers made a payment in addition to the farm, which, like the dues rendered when the coinage was changed, was owed to king and earl in the proportion of two to one. (fn. 84)
It is not easy to ascribe territories to 10th-century ealdormen, but it seems that already in the 930s one of the districts ruled by such an official was north-west Mercia, the principal settlement in which was Chester. (fn. 85) The area had already emerged as a monetary region before Æthelstan's death in 939, and was characterized by a coinage distinct from the issues where there was direct royal control. (fn. 86) An ealdorman based in the North-West, Æthelmund, was among those appointed by King Edmund in 940, (fn. 87) and quite possibly his presence ensured the continuance of a north-western monetary region and an effective mint at Chester. After 965, however, his ealdormanry seems to have been absorbed into that of Ælfhere of Mercia, whose interests lay elsewhere. (fn. 88)
The rise of a local or at least Mercian ealdorman and the Mercian particularism fostered by Ælfhere meant that increasingly Chester lay on the fringes of royal authority. That was a further reason for the insignificant role assigned to its mint in the centralizing measures of 973. (fn. 89) Nevertheless, Chester was still a significant place, the scene of a notable expression of Edgar's imperial ambitions, the celebrated encounter with a group of Scots, Welsh, and Scandinavian rulers at which he was allegedly rowed on the Dee in token of submission. (fn. 90) The sources differ about the number and identities of those involved, but it seems likely that Edgar did indeed take his fleet to Chester, where he met eight princes, including the kings of Scots and Strathclyde, the king of Gwynedd and other Welshmen, and the king of the Isles and another Norse ruler, perhaps from Wales or Cumbria. Although the account of the rowing from Edgar's palace on the Dee to the church of St. John and back appears only in post-Conquest sources, there was clearly a naval element in the ceremony. Taking place soon after Edgar's belated coronation at Bath in 973, it was undoubtedly a special occasion, although whether it was viewed by all the participants as a long-term submission to imperial authority is debatable. (fn. 91) Probably it set the seal on a more ad hoc relationship, a pact between parties interested in keeping Scandinavian raiders out of the Irish Sea. (fn. 92) As such, the episode illustrated the city's ambivalent position. Although an important harbour and naval base, it was relatively remote from the heartlands of English royal power, and hence a suitable setting for encounters with other ruling princes.
Edgar's death in 975 ended royal attempts at centralization, bringing a slackening of royal control over the coinage and a resumption of regional die-cutting. Chester nevertheless remained one of the few northern mints which continued to be supplied with dies from the South. (fn. 93) There seems to have been no senior ealdorman with a close interest in the North-West, and the area was perhaps under the control of royal reeve. The city's relatively depressed state was indicated by the low output of its mint in the 980s and early 990s. From the 990s there were signs of a revival, and Chester may once again have become a die-cutting centre, albeit on a modest scale. Though it never regained its earlier pre-eminence, the mint was becoming more productive by 1000, (fn. 94) and by the reign of Cnut (1016- 35) had reached a fresh peak of activity, with at least 16 moneyers active in his first substantive (Quatrefoil) issue. The mint cut its own dies, but they were not distributed elsewhere except for one pair cut perhaps c. 1020 for Sihtric III, king of Dublin. Chester coins were also imitated at a mint somewhere in the Irish Sea area during Cnut's reign, evidence that they commanded widespread acceptance. (fn. 95)
The changes may be connected with the appointment for western Mercia of a new ealdorman, Leofwine, whose sphere of influence probably included Chester. (fn. 96) Leofwine probably did not succeed immediately to the full authority of Ealdorman Ælfhere, for in 1007 he was subordinate to Eadric Streona when the latter was appointed earl of Mercia, and he remained so under Eadric's successor Eglaf (1017-23). (fn. 97) Even so, Leofwine's appointment had important political implications; it coincided with renewed royal efforts against the Northmen in the Irish Sea, in which Chester served in 1000 as the naval base for an attack on Cumberland and Man. (fn. 98) The city's military importance at that time was further demonstrated by the fact that it was the destination of Edmund Ironside and Earl Uhtred of Northumbria in their attempt to raise support against Cnut in 1016, and to harry Leofwine, whose loyalty was doubtful. (fn. 99)
After Eglaf's death in 1023 Leofwine's descendants succeeded to the whole Mercian earldom. (fn. 100) Western Mercia probably retained an especial importance: Leofwine's son, Earl Leofric (d. 1057), enriched several important churches and cult centres in the area, including the two minsters in Chester, St. Werburgh's and St. John's. (fn. 101) When Leofric's son Ælfgar revolted successfully in the 1050s, the western Marches were his centre of operations and he eventually sent his Irish Viking fleet to Chester to be paid off. (fn. 102) Clearly Chester was still an important naval base for his family.
Ælfgar's alliance with the Welsh king Gruffudd ap Llywelyn led to the latter's acquisition of lands west of the Dee, near Chester, (fn. 103) and when in 1063 Earl Harold attacked Gruffudd's palace at Rhuddlan in Flintshire he made the city his base. (fn. 104) Although with Gruffudd's defeat in the same year the lands beyond the Dee returned to English control, the main beneficiary was not the king but Ælfgar's youthful son and heir, Earl Edwin. By then the king had relinquished all his Cheshire lands to the earls of Mercia, leaving them in a position not so very unlike that of their postConquest successors at Chester. (fn. 105) Clearly by the mid 1060s the area held considerable potential for an energetic earl. One indication of the impact of such developments upon Chester itself was the fact that in Harold II's reign (January-October 1066) its mint was one of the few supplied with locally produced dies, (fn. 106) and the continuing close association of the city with the comital house was demonstrated when Harold's widow Ealdgyth was sent there by her brother Earl Edwin after the battle of Hastings. (fn. 107)
It thus appears that from the later 10th century the fortunes of the city and its mint depended greatly upon the presence of a sympathetic and effective local magnate. From the 990s the family of Leofwine probably performed that role. Their arrival in western Mercia coincided with a revival in minting activity, and their continued interest ensured the city's survival as a major provincial centre.
Chester in 1066
By 1066 Chester was a prosperous town with a population of perhaps 2,500-3,000. (fn. 108) Rendering a farm of £45 and three timber of marten pelts (i.e. 120 skins), together with an additional payment from the moneyers, (fn. 109) it was assessed as a half hundred including the adjacent townships of Handbridge, Newton by Chester, 'Lee' (Overleigh and Netherleigh), and 'Redcliff', expressly said to be 'outside the city' but taxed with it. The city had its own laws and customs, administered by its hundredal court, over which presided 12 judges or doomsmen (iudices civitatis) drawn from the men of king, earl, and bishop, and liable to fines payable to the king and earl for failure to attend. The judges have been regarded as evidence of Scandinavian influence on the city's institutions and equated with the 'lawmen' (lagemen or iudices) of certain boroughs in the Danelaw. There is, however, no indication that they enjoyed the same status as the lawmen, who had extensive properties and judicial privileges. Indeed the laws of Chester, which were recorded in Domesday Book in exceptional detail, suggest that, as in other western towns dominated by a great local magnate, the status of its citizens was comparatively low. They were obliged to pay 10s. on taking up land in the city, and were also liable to heavy fines for failure to pay gavel or rent and for other misdemeanours. (fn. 110)
Late Anglo-Saxon Chester was in the hands of three lords, king, earl, and bishop, who all owned houses there. The earl was particularly influential, a reflection of his very powerful position in Cheshire as a whole. In contrast with those towns where he was simply allocated the normal third share of a fixed farm, in Chester he was entitled to a variety of renders and was represented by an agent, a reeve (praepositus or minister) who seems to have had similar status to the king's representative: his peace was protected from infringement by the same fine of 40s. as that of the king's reeve. (fn. 111) The earl's reeve took a third of the forfeitures for criminal offences, a third of the payments for evasions of the tolls, and a third of the tolls themselves. The earl also received a third of the farm and his due share of the various payments made by the city's seven moneyers. The 12 doomsmen who presided over the city court were drawn from his men as well as the king's. Apart from the king's larger share of the forfeitures, tolls, and renders, the only expression of royal superiority appears to have been his right of pre-emption of marten furs. (fn. 112)
The earl's reeve was apparently, then, a very important official in pre-Conquest Chester, similar perhaps to the representatives of the Norman earl who succeeded him. His only local rival was the bishop of Lichfield, whose extensive property in and near the city included 56 houses, the manor of 'Redcliff', and the 'bishop's borough' with its complex of ecclesiastical buildings focused on St. John's church, apparently quit of tax. The bishop also had important customary rights in the city, mainly fines payable for various transgressions of the laws regulating trade on Sundays and other holy days. (fn. 113) His receipts from Chester were probably greater than in any other town in his diocese. (fn. 114)
Of Chester's two minsters, the larger and richer in 1066 was St. Werburgh's, with 12 canons and a warden (custos), all owning houses in the city, and an endowment assessed at c. 30 hides, in Cheshire and Flintshire, except for the manors of Hanbury and Fauld in Staffordshire. (fn. 115) Its precinct occupied part if not all of the north-eastern quarter of the Roman fortress, and it was the main ecclesiastical focus of the surrounding area, with a large extramural parish. (fn. 116) The cult which it housed apparently enjoyed something of a resurgence in the mid 11th century. A late 12th-century account told of the canons twice parading St. Werburg's shrine in defence of the city when it was besieged by a Welsh king called Griffin and by the rulers Harold of Denmark, Malcolm of Scotland, and the 'king of Goths and Galwedy'. Although ascribed to the reign of Edward the Elder (899-924), the first episode almost certainly alluded to Edward the Confessor and Harold Godwineson's conflict with Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, king of Gwynedd, in the 1050s and early 1060s. (fn. 117) The second story is more puzzling, but may represent some confused memory also of the 1050s, when Gruffudd intrigued with Earl Ælfgar of Mercia, Magnus, son of King Harald Hardrada of Norway, and the men of the Isles. (fn. 118) Other wonders attributed to the saint perhaps also date from the same period. (fn. 119)
St. John's had a dean (matricularius) and seven canons, all with houses in the city, and a parish much smaller than St. Werburgh's. In 1086 it was recorded as holding only the adjacent small manor of 'Redcliff', perhaps because its holdings were merged with those of the bishop. (fn. 120) A locally influential masons' workshop at the church used the soft red sandstone of 'Redcliff' to manufacture distinctive circle-headed grave crosses of a type found not only in Chester, but in Flintshire and Wirral. (fn. 121)
Industrial activities in the city included brewing, the working of bone, leather, and metal, and perhaps the manufacture of pottery: Chester ware has been found all over the city, which probably had its own kilns, like Stafford. (fn. 122) The importance of its external trade is indicated by the elaborate system of tolls, apparently of some antiquity, imposed on the cargoes of ships calling at the port. (fn. 123) Chester indeed was presumably highly dependent upon such trade. (fn. 124) Though only a middle-ranking borough in national terms, it was by far the largest settlement in an area of relatively low population. Even the Dee valley, the most densely settled of the surrounding districts, had a population of only c. 15 to the square mile, relatively insignificant in comparison with the 25-35 around other marcher towns such as Shrewsbury and Worcester. (fn. 125) Nor was Chester's hinterland in 1066 especially productive. It was notably worse off for ploughteams and corn mills than that of Shrewsbury, Hereford, and Worcester. (fn. 126) Chester, then, may have been dependent upon imported food. Indeed, in the 12th century, though it was well supplied with meat and fish, corn had to be imported from Ireland. (fn. 127)
The mint remained of provincial importance in 1066, with seven moneyers. (fn. 128) Despite its isolation, its standing was improving as rivals declined. (fn. 129) In sharp contrast with other western mints, Scandinavian and Irish names accounted for almost 40 per cent of the city's moneyers in the earlier 11th century, evidence that the Irish Sea trade remained significant. (fn. 130) On the other hand English coins, especially Chester-minted ones, disappeared from Dublin during the period, (fn. 131) but not from north Wales, where several hoards deposited in Cnut's reign have been found. The suggestion of a collapse in the trade between Dublin and Chester is not, however, borne out by archaeological evidence which points to trade continuing without interruption throughout the 11th century; certainly it was in full vigour in the 12th. (fn. 132)
Chester and the anglo-norman earls
Chester's close ties with the earls of Mercia led to its involvement in the rising of 1069-70. In 1069 the men of Chester in alliance with Eadric the wild and the Welsh besieged Shrewsbury. The Conqueror, then at York, responded by crossing the Pennines and bringing his army to Chester, where he built a castle. Resistance collapsed and Earl Edwin was soon replaced by a Fleming, Gherbod. (fn. 133) Identified as a centre of disaffection, the city was dealt with severely. The construction of William I's motte and bailey castle south-west of the legionary fortress almost certainly entailed considerable destruction; when Earl Hugh received the city, probably in 1071, the value of the farm had been reduced by a third to £30 and it was described as 'greatly wasted'. Of 487 houses standing in 1066, 205 had been lost and were perhaps not rebuilt before 1086. The increase in the farm of the city under Earl Hugh to £70 and a mark of gold (about its preConquest level) perhaps indicates more burdensome exactions rather than returning prosperity. (fn. 134)
The new castle enhanced Chester's role as a military and administrative centre, and it quickly became the base for expeditions against both the Welsh and, in the 12th century, the Irish. Under Earl Hugh I the resources of the earldom were devoted to a prolonged campaign in north Wales, in which Chester was doubtless much concerned. It was there, for example, that the Welsh leader Gruffudd ap Cynan languished for 12 years, apparently fettered in the market place, after his capture in 1081. (fn. 135) In 1098 Earl Hugh marched from Chester as joint leader of an ill-fated expedition to Anglesey. (fn. 136) Later comital expeditions became the stuff of legend. One led by Earl Richard (1101-20), for example, was believed to be the occasion of a relief march by the constable of Chester and of a miracle of St. Werburg. (fn. 137) The story is probably mythical, for it is closely related to another, regarded as explaining the origin of the Chester court of minstrels, which told of the rescue of Ranulph III at Rhuddlan by the constable Roger de Lacy (d. 1211) at the head of an unruly band of fiddlers, players, cobblers, and reprobates of both sexes from Chester. (fn. 138)
Other, more authentic expeditions were royally led. In 1157, during the minority of Earl Hugh II, Henry II received the homage of Malcolm IV, king of Scots, in Chester before invading north Wales. (fn. 139) In 1165 Henry used Shrewsbury as his base but after the campaign visited Chester to meet the ships which he had ordered to harry Gwynedd. (fn. 140) Shortly afterwards Chester appears to have been involved in a further attack, for in 1170 Hugh II was said to have built a mound at Boughton out of the heads of Welshmen killed at the 'bridge of Baldert', possibly Balderton (in Dodleston), south of Chester. (fn. 141) In 1211 King John also attacked the Welsh from Chester. (fn. 142)
Chester remained a major point of embarkation for Ireland, and in the 12th century a steady stream of visitors passed through en route for Dublin and elsewhere. Important travellers, such as the bishop of Louth, the abbot of Buildwas (Salop.), and Richard de Limesey, marshal in Ireland, usually stayed in the abbey rather than the castle, the residential buildings of which had yet to receive the lavish improvements provided by Henry III and his successors. (fn. 143) Nevertheless, the castle was undoubtedly used as a base for armed expeditions bound for Ireland, apparently first contemplated by Henry II in 1164 and increasingly important thereafter. (fn. 144) In 1185, when the city was in royal hands during Ranulph III's minority, some two hundred notabilities, including royal officials and military commanders, sailed thence to Ireland with their men, equipment, and provisions to join the king's son, Prince John. (fn. 145) In 1186 John himself visited Chester, only to be recalled by Henry II while awaiting a favourable wind for Ireland. Even though he did not go himself, many others did, including John de Courcy and the prior of Dublin. (fn. 146)
It is not clear how often the earls resided in their city. Their presence was only recorded at special occasions, such as Hugh I's attendance at the ceremonies marking the establishment of St. Werburgh's abbey in 1092, (fn. 147) and Ranulph III's visits to meet Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1220 and 1231. (fn. 148) Nevertheless, there were certainly other less public visits. One such was a gathering of leading Angevin supporters convened in Chester by Ranulph II in 1147-8, which included his nephew Earl Gilbert of Clare, Earl Roger of Hereford, Cadwaladr ap Gruffudd, younger brother of the ruler of Gwynedd, and William FitzAlan of Oswestry (Salop.). (fn. 149) Another was in 1224, when the disgraced Fawkes de Breauté fled to Chester and Ranulph III wrote to Henry III in his defence. (fn. 150) Both Hugh II, after his release from prison in 1177, and Ranulph III, who had probably been brought up there, issued charters at Chester and may have harboured ambitions to make it the centre of an independent principality. (fn. 151) One sign of Hugh's attitude was perhaps the sheltering at Chester of hermits who claimed, bizarrely, to be Harold II of England and the German Emperor Henry V. Although clearly fantastic, in both cases their claims cast doubt on Angevin legitimacy: Harold for obvious reasons, the emperor because his survival would have bastardized Henry II of England. Unlike Hugh, Ranulph III remained loyal to the house of Anjou; nevertheless, the fact that the hermit stories continued to circulate during his rule perhaps tells something of the political culture and pretensions of his capital. (fn. 152)
The personal presence and ambitions of the earls made little difference to the city's role as the administrative centre of their earldom. (fn. 153) Important comital officials such as the justice and the two chamberlains must often have been present, and even those lower down the scale, such as the constable of the castle, bulked large in city life. In the 1180s, for example, during Ranulph III's minority, the constable administered the earl's Cheshire lands for the Crown and received payments from the burgesses. (fn. 154) Another important figure was the head of the earl's secretariat. (fn. 155) Comital clerks resided in Chester as early as the time of Ranulph II (1129-53), when a certain John the clerk stated that he had written a charter there at the earl's command. (fn. 156) Later, under Ranulph III (1181-1232), the clerk Thomas, sometimes designated the earl's chancellor, was often in Chester. (fn. 157) The impact such a figure could make upon the local scene is apparent from the career of Peter, his successor as the earl's principal clerk and sometimes termed the clerk of Chester: the earl was godfather to one of his sons, and he had a grand stone house in Bridge Street and important privileges within the city. (fn. 158)
The city sheriff and the portmote
The Norman earls dominated the government of the city still more than had their English predecessors. By 1071 the borough had been mediatized and royal officials had been excluded. The earl's reeve, however, remained. As late as c. 1210 Ranulph III could refer to one of his grantees, William of Barrow, as 'my reeve of Chester', an indication that the city 'was still in effect a seigneurial borough'. (fn. 159) The duties of the earl's reeve are obscure. In particular, it is uncertain how they related to those of another representative of the earl, mentioned much more often: the sheriff of the city. The earliest reference to the sheriff of Chester, the first for any English borough, was in the 1120s in Ranulph I's charter granting jurisdiction over the summer fair to St. Werburgh's abbey, in which provision was made for the amount received in fines by the monks to be deducted from the farm which the city sheriff rendered to the earl's chamberlains. (fn. 160) The sheriff evidently accounted for the city's revenues, an arrangement whose origins perhaps date from before the 1070s, when the farm of the city was already distinguished from that of the earl's pleas in the shire and hundred courts, though both were held by the same person, the earl's man Mundræd. (fn. 161)
The city shrievalty existed from c. 1070, early holders of the post including Winebald, Pain, William Gamberell, and Richard Pierrepont. (fn. 162) Their status is not easy to assess. In the 1070s Mundræd, a landowner and tenant of the honor of Chester in Cheshire and Suffolk and of Roger de Montgomery in Shropshire, had clearly been a person of consequence. (fn. 163) In the 12th century Ranulph I's sheriff, Winebald, had a house in the market place, while Pain (d. by 1178) was evidently a member of a local family with holdings in Chester. Richard Pierrepont, sheriff c. 1210-15, though not a Cheshire man, had property in both city and county. Pierrepont's standing in Chester is indicated by his obligation to find a doomsman for the city court and by the use of his counterseal to warrant a private deed conveying land in the city. (fn. 164) That by then the sheriff was regarded as the earl's principal representative in Chester is apparent from the prominence of Pierrepont and his successor as witnesses of local charters, and from Ranulph III's express mention of the sheriff's office when prohibiting any infringement of a grant of fishing rights to Peter the clerk. (fn. 165)
From an early period the sheriff's duties included policing. In the time of Earl Ranulph II, for example, he and the abbot's officials were charged with the arrest and detention of merchants who offended against the regulations governing trading at St. Werburgh's fair. (fn. 166) The sheriff probably also, as later, presided over the portmote court, in existence by 1200, when Peter the clerk was exempted from attending it. (fn. 167) Almost certainly the portmote represented a continuation of the hundred court of Chester, mentioned in 1086. Apart from the exemption of the castle precincts and St. Werburgh's abbey, probably under Earl Hugh I, the area of its jurisdiction was much the same, though its business may have been modified by the exclusion of the most serious criminal cases, the earl's pleas, known in Ranulph III's time as the pleas of the sword. (fn. 168) In the 13th century the portmote heard all kinds of cases except Crown pleas, though it was especially associated with disputes relating to real estate. Its procedures involved doomsmen (judices or judicatores), who interpreted civic custom and may have been the direct successors of the Anglo-Saxon judges. Responsibility for finding doomsmen rested with particular urban holdings; in the early 13th century, for example, worthies such as Peter the clerk and the sheriff Richard Pierrepont held property which obliged them to provide a doomsman, a duty from which they were exempted by the earl. (fn. 169) By the early 13th century the doomsmen appear to have been well-to-do individuals who attested charters alongside the sheriff. (fn. 170) Probably, however, the court remained very much under the influence of the earl. Some indication of how that influence was exercised, and the kind of business with which the court might deal, is given by Ranulph III's charter of liberties granted in the 1190s, which among other things regulated the rights of citizens who bought stolen goods. If a citizen bought goods in open market which a Frenchman or an Englishman afterwards claimed were stolen, he would be quit of action by the earl and his bailiffs upon restoring the goods in question. If, however, a Welshman made a similar claim he had to repay the citizen his purchase price. The involvement of the earl's representatives in the city's judicial procedures is further implied in the exemption of the citizens from the obligation to obtain leave of the sheriff or the earl's bailiffs before taking surety for the recovery of chattels which they had lent. (fn. 171) Though it is not clear whether the sheriff in question was from the city or the county, it seems likely that it was the former in view of his other responsibilities in Chester.
The burgesses and the emergence of the guild merchant
By 1066 land in the city was held by varied forms of tenure. Burgesses clearly existed in the later 11th century, (fn. 172) but their number and tenurial conditions are uncertain. As elsewhere, burgage holdings were heritable and obliged to pay gavel (gablum) to the 'chief lords': before 1066 the king, the earl of Mercia, and the bishop of Lichfield; afterwards the Norman earls and bishops of Chester. (fn. 173) Such tenements were distinguished from land belonging to a rural manor, which was exempt from customary dues and tenanted by villeins (hospites) rather than burgesses. (fn. 174) Burgages in Chester were evidently well worth having; in the early 12th century, for example, one was valued highly enough to be exchanged for half the manor of Warburton. (fn. 175) Several of the earl's principal tenants also apparently thought it worth while to maintain a residence or tenanted houses in the shire town. Thus in 1086 Osbern fitz Tezzon had 15 burgesses there attached to his chief manor of Dodleston, and Hamon de Massey a house attached to Dunham Massey. (fn. 176)
Gradually the emphasis in the citizens' relations with their lord changed from duties to privileges, and by the late 12th century the occasional personal services for which they had been liable had largely disappeared. About 1178, for example, Earl Hugh II granted Pain, nephew of Iseult, land in the city as a free customary tenant, with quittance from toll, taking and guarding prisoners, taking distresses, carrying writs, doing night watch, and all other similar 'customs and vexations'. (fn. 177) That such privileges were not new is indicated by Ranulph III's charter confirming the liberties and free customs which the citizens enjoyed under his predecessors. By then they included freedom from inquest (recognitio) and assize (proportamentum), to which Ranulph added the right to make valid wills whether death occurred within the city or elsewhere, and a restriction on the liability of citizens who purchased stolen goods. (fn. 178) Such a body of personal rights and privileged tenure perhaps originated in the liberties of the two minsters, both of which held houses in the city free of all custom by 1066. (fn. 179)
Other privileges were linked with trade. In the earliest surviving city charter Henry II confirmed the burgesses' right to buy and sell in Dublin under the same terms as their ancestors in the time of Henry I. (fn. 180) Later charters of John, both as lord of Ireland and as king, and of Walter de Lacy, lord of Meath (Irel.), enlarged those rights, which related mainly to the trade in corn. (fn. 181) Further grants covered the citizens' commercial activities nearer home. A lost charter of Earl Hugh II, probably dating from his last years (1177-81), confirmed a grant of Ranulph II (1129-53) that the burgesses of Chester were to enjoy their customary liberties in fairs and markets throughout Cheshire. (fn. 182) In the early 13th century Ranulph III conceded a monopoly of trade within the city except during the two fairs. (fn. 183) Such privileges were linked with the beginnings of corporate action by the burgesses, first evidenced by their responsibility for paying at least part of the city farm during Ranulph III's minority (1181 to perhaps 1188). (fn. 184) Ranulph III soon afterwards, in the early 1190s, conceded a guild merchant. (fn. 185) The terms of that grant did not indicate whether the guild was created then or existed already, nor did they explain the nature of the organization involved. Even so it undoubtedly prepared the way for the emergence in the 1230s of a mayor and sheriffs responsible to the citizens rather than to the earl. (fn. 186)
Trade and economic life, 1070-1230
In the 12th century, though Chester was clearly regarded as a prosperous town, there are hints that it was very dependent on external trade. William of Malmesbury, for example, noted that while its hinterland abounded in beasts and fish, especially salmon, it was unproductive of cereals, which had to be imported from Ireland. (fn. 187) Somewhat later the monk Lucian also praised the woods, pastures, beasts, and fisheries of the Cestrians, but also remarked that they were well placed to obtain supplies not only locally but from Wales and Ireland. (fn. 188) In the early 13th century the citizens obtained corn from the Irish lands of Walter de Lacy under arrangements of some antiquity; he remitted the customary charges and granted the Cestrians freedom to buy all kinds of corn, malt, and flour. (fn. 189)
Despite the troubled relations between the Norman earls and the princes of Gwynedd, the Cestrians' need was such that the Welsh were encouraged to trade in the city's market, supplying especially cattle and meat. They were not, however, accorded equal status with the English and French. The less generous treatment which they received when their goods were stolen shows their inferior status at the end of the 12th century. (fn. 190) So too does the disdainful attitude of the Cestrian monk Lucian: 'The native [Cestrian] knows how savagely our neighbour often approaches, and stimulated by hunger and cold haunts the place, and then cannot help but compare the difference in supplies. Yet he returns, but with hostile glance and evil thoughts envies the citizen within the walls.' (fn. 191)
The trade with Ireland was perhaps crucial to Chester's economy. Besides food, the city imported animal pelts, especially marten. (fn. 192) Its exports are much less certain. As earlier, they presumably included salt, needed for Dublin's trade in hides and fish, and some at least of the English pottery which in the absence of home-based manufactures Dublin continued to use in considerable quantities before 1200. (fn. 193) That such trading remained significant after the English conquest of Dublin and the grant of the city to the men of Bristol is clear from the city charters, all of which post-date those events. (fn. 194) Evidently Henry II's predilection for loyalist Bristol did not have as much effect on Chester as has sometimes been suggested, and there was no sudden rupture of Chester's relations with Dublin in the late 12th century.
Ireland was not Chester's only international link. In the late 12th century, for example, ships from Aquitaine, Spain, and Germany brought cargoes of wine into the harbour on the south side of the city. (fn. 195) Wine was clearly a valuable import, for in 1238 it formed the basis of the rent which the burgesses paid the new royal earl for one of the Dee Mills. (fn. 196) All that activity was reflected in the city's markets and fairs. There was undoubtedly a market in Chester well before it was first documented c. 1080, (fn. 197) in the city centre immediately south of St. Peter's church. A focal point, it was fronted in the 1120s by important buildings, including the sheriff's house and a 'great shop' (magna sopa). (fn. 198) In the 1090s Gruffudd ap Cynan was supposedly exhibited there in chains and released by a young Welshman visiting 'to buy necessities'. (fn. 199) A second market place was established in front of St. Werburgh's abbey gate by Earl Ranulph II. (fn. 200) Commodities on sale there were mainly provisions, both local and imported, including cereals, cattle and meat, and fish from the Dee and Ireland. (fn. 201)
The city also had two annual fairs, at Midsummer and Michaelmas. Their origins are uncertain. From an early period the monks of St. Werburgh's claimed that Earl Hugh I (d. 1101) had granted them the right to hold a fair on the three days around the feast of St. Werburg's translation on 21 June. (fn. 202) Although the grant was not mentioned in Earl Richard's confirmation of Hugh's charter to the abbey, on balance the claim is likely to have been correct. (fn. 203) Almost certainly, however, the fair was reorganized in the 1120s by Ranulph I, who provided new regulations governing its hours of opening. (fn. 204) Further regulation took place under Ranulph II (1129-53), who permitted stalls and a market to be set up before the abbey gate, and prohibited trading elsewhere in the city while the fair lasted. (fn. 205) Ranulph later pledged his peace to all attending the fair and extended responsibility for its policing to the barons of Cheshire. (fn. 206) By the early 13th century the fair was associated with the feast of St. John the Baptist, Midsummer Day (24 June), and had evidently been extended to probably at least a week. (fn. 207) The origins of the Michaelmas fair are even more obscure. It was certainly held in the early 13th century, and may have been much older. It was never, however, as important or long-lasting as the Midsummer fair. (fn. 208)
The city did not depend simply upon trade. In the 12th century industrial workers included leatherdressers and artisans, (fn. 209) and probably potters making wares for local use and export to Dublin. (fn. 210) Provisioning the city and its environs was especially important. Brewing, recorded in 1086, was regulated by a charter of Earl John (1232-7) which limited the levy (capcio) on beer to himself and his justiciar while they were present in the city, and restricted the amount taken from each brewing to 4 sesters (24 gallons). (fn. 211) Milling was of prime importance. The Dee Mills, located at the bridge, seem to have existed by the late 11th century. (fn. 212) By 1238 there were six mills there, farmed separately from the city for the very large sum of £100. (fn. 213) From an early date all citizens, except the monks of St. Werburgh's and their tenants, were required to grind their corn there and pay the earl a toll for the service. (fn. 214) Though the customs governing the monopoly, apparently systematized by Ranulph III, were later regarded as benefiting the city, among contemporaries they seem to have occasioned resentment, and after the death of Earl John in 1237 the mills were destroyed by the inhabitants. (fn. 215)
Another important activity was fishing, especially the taking of salmon from the Dee, where they abounded. (fn. 216) The earls had a fishery by the Dee Bridge, (fn. 217) and by the 1140s they had assigned the monks of St. Werburgh's a tithe of the fish taken there and in other fisheries. (fn. 218) Throughout the later 12th century they continued to grant boats on the Dee to various ecclesiastical establishments, including in the 1150s the newly established nuns of Chester and the monks of Much Wenlock (Salop.). (fn. 219) In the 1160s Hugh II's similar grant to Trentham priory (Staffs.) expressly allowed for fishing 'above and below the bridge', evidently that at Chester. (fn. 220) Hugh clearly valued his fisheries highly, and he and his predecessors perhaps had a monopoly. (fn. 221) His successor Ranulph III, however, was apparently much more prodigal of his rights on the Dee, and from c. 1200 increasing numbers of citizens held stalls, nets, or boats on the river. (fn. 222)
The mint at Chester survived the Conquest with six or seven moneyers. By the 1070s, however, the number was reduced to four, and thereafter the earls of Chester probably received the profits, although they never issued coins in their own name. (fn. 223) The number of moneyers, which perhaps dwindled further under King Stephen, fell to two after Henry II's reforms in 1158, and in 1180 the mint closed. (fn. 224)
The church in anglo-norman chester
The Normans brought many changes to the religious life of the city, of which the most dramatic was the transfer of the north-west Mercian see in 1075 from Lichfield to St. John's, already an episcopal possession. (fn. 225) The reasons for the move were mixed. Chester was much larger and more important than Lichfield, and the bishop already had considerable property there. (fn. 226) The new Norman bishop, Peter, may also have seen a chance for diocesan expansion in tandem with the earl's plans for the conquest of north Wales. There was then no neighbouring bishop at St. Asaph (Flints.), (fn. 227) and Peter may have felt that if large territories in north-east Wales were to come under his jurisdiction, Chester would be a more central base than Lichfield. His ambitions were probably stimulated by claims, inherited from his Anglo-Saxon predecessor, in the area of English occupation immediately west of the Dee. (fn. 228) In the event, by 1087 those claims had been rejected or ignored, and in 1098 the Norman attempt to conquer north Wales suffered a severe setback. Moreover the prospect of gaining control of the rich abbey of Coventry tempted Peter's successor Robert de Limesey away from Chester. (fn. 229) Although any chance of a return ended with the collapse of the earl's hopes of conquering north Wales in the 1140s, and although St. John's had lost its cathedral status by 1100 and the chapter its rights in episcopal elections by 1237, the bishops continued to use Chester in their official style and to maintain a presence in the city. In the 12th century St. John's remained the centre of an ecclesiastical enclave, including the minster of St. Mary, the chapel of St. James, a hermitage, and residences for the bishop and archdeacon of Chester. (fn. 230) The archdeaconry, probably in existence by the late 11th century and certainly by 1151, was closely associated with St. John's, where the archdeacon's court was held throughout the Middle Ages. (fn. 231)
The Normans also established regular monasticism within the city. In 1092 Anselm, then abbot of Bec (Eure), visited Chester at Earl Hugh I's invitation to refound the minster of St. Werburgh's as a community of Benedictine monks. The new monastery received large endowments from the earl and his principal tenants, and from the beginning was clearly intended as their pantheon. (fn. 232) Earl Hugh's cousin and leading baron, Robert of Rhuddlan, was initially buried in the abbey in 1093 or 1094, before his removal to SaintEvroul (Orne), and all the Norman earls except Richard, drowned in the White Ship, were also interred there. (fn. 233)
St. Werburgh's also played an important part in the life of the community. The greatest landowner in Chester, it held a large manor, centred on the chapel of St. Thomas Becket outside the Northgate, where the abbot held court for his tenants. (fn. 234) The abbey's holding included numerous properties in Northgate Street, Parsons Lane, and Bridge Street, and much extramural territory outside the Northgate, extending from the walls to the city limits and taking in most of the fields east of Bache Way. (fn. 235) Exempted by the earls from the jurisdiction of their officials and those of the citizens, it had its own corn mill, controlled the Midsummer fair, and administered the city's principal parish, which under an arrangement probably already ancient by the 13th century was focused on the altar of St. Oswald within the abbey church. (fn. 236) Through its parochial responsibilities it was guardian of two of the city's principal burial grounds: that immediately south of the abbey church, in being by the 12th century, and another outside the Northgate. (fn. 237) St. Werburgh's and St. John's, which held the city's other main graveyard, took good care to defend their burial rights. In the 12th and early 13th century they negotiated agreements with new religious foundations within the city, including hospitals and friaries, to prevent them establishing burial grounds for any but their own inmates or those especially closely connected with them. (fn. 238)
The refoundation of the abbey seems to have revitalized the cult of its patron saint. A translation feast, probably commemorating Werburg's removal to Chester and apparently known in Abingdon (Berks.) before the Conquest, was revived by being made the focus of the city's summer fair. (fn. 239) By 1150 Werburg's association with Chester was sufficiently well known for William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon erroneously (but apparently independently) to make the city the scene of the saint's resurrection of a goose that had been cooked and eaten. The story was an embellished version of a miracle in the earliest surviving Life of the saint, probably compiled at Ely (Cambs.), and may reflect a separate tradition preserved in Chester by the monks of the new abbey. (fn. 240)
Legends about the saint, together with a Life, probably that attributed to Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, were said in the 16th century to be preserved in a book called the 'third passionary'. (fn. 241) The corpus of miracle stories was probably put together in the late 12th century: it comprised wonders associated with both the canons of the old minster and the monks of the new abbey, extending, it was claimed, from the reign of Edward the Elder (899-924) to 1180. (fn. 242)
The 12th-century material included the story of Earl Richard's rescue by his constable, William fitz Niel, aided by St. Werburg's miraculous intervention, which in turn elicited from William the gift of Newton by Chester. (fn. 243) A later episode told of fire breaking out in the city but being contained when the community took out the saint's shrine and bore it in procession, chanting litanies and prayers. (fn. 244) That story was undoubtedly current almost immediately after the events it purported to describe, since it was also recorded by Lucian in his De Laude Cestrie, written at the abbey in the 1190s. (fn. 245) The evidence suggests that in the 12th century the monks of St. Werburgh's were actively presenting their patroness as the special protector of the earls and their city. Lucian indeed included a long and prolix eulogy of the saint which presented her in precisely that role. (fn. 246)
Other religious foundations followed the introduction of the Benedictines into St. Werburgh's. The most important was the Benedictine nunnery established first in Handbridge by Earl Ranulph II and later moved by him to a site near the castle. (fn. 247) Always much poorer than St. Werburgh's, it nevertheless received a number of important privileges in the city and probably always attracted more affection from the citizens. (fn. 248) Other foundations included the hospitals of St. John without the Northgate and St. Giles, Boughton. The former, established by Ranulph III in the 1190s to care for the poor, seems to have had a limited parochial function from an early date. It was allowed to offer the sacrament to visiting strangers, and, by permission of St. Werburgh's and St. John's, to bury the poor who died there, the brethren themselves, and those in confraternity with them. St. Giles's, probably founded in the time of Ranulph II, was for lepers. It too had a burial ground, in which the heads of Welshmen killed in battle with the earl were reputed to have been buried in 1170. Both hospitals had considerable privileges within the city, including rights to fish in the Dee and to take certain tolls. Their landed endowments came not only from the earl but from his officials and associates such as Robert the chamberlain. (fn. 249)
In addition to the religious communities, sometimes perhaps attached to them, there were hermits. In the 12th century Chester seems to have had a reputation for them. Gerald of Wales, who accompanied Archbishop Baldwin when he went to Chester in 1188 to preach the Crusade, told of two famous personages locally reputed to have become hermits in Chester and to be buried there: King Harold and the German emperor Henry IV (or V). (fn. 250) The notion that Harold lived on after Hastings appeared in several stories, (fn. 251) and a link with Chester was current by the later 12th century. It occurred in its fullest form in the Vita Haroldi, an anonymous work written c. 1200. There, Harold was said to have been taken to Winchester after the battle and nursed back to health, to undergo adventures abroad before returning as an old man to England. He eventually went to Chester, where he became a hermit in the cell of St. James, attached to St. John's church. There he died and was buried, confirming his true identity in his last hours. (fn. 252) Despite its absurdity, the story was undoubtedly being told in late 12th-century Chester. The author of the Vita Haroldi ascribed the tale to a priest of St. John's named Andrew, perhaps the Canon Andrew of St. John's who attested grants to St. Werburgh's in the period c. 1150-80. (fn. 253) Probably a respected anchorite did indeed die at Chester in the later 12th century claiming to be Harold. At all events the tradition had a long life. In 1332 an incorrupt body, allegedly Harold's, was discovered in St. John's, and in the mid 14th century the story of the hermit was recounted by the local historian Ranulph Higden, together with the tale of the German emperor, by then believed to have taken the name Godescall and to have been associated with St. Werburgh's, where his tomb was certainly later displayed. (fn. 254) Though clearly absurd, and doubted even by Higden, the stories suggest the presence of hermits in 12th-century Chester. In particular, the claim of the Vita Haroldi that Harold had both a predecessor and a successor in his cell at St. John's provides evidence that the hermitage undoubtedly associated with that church in the 14th century existed much earlier. (fn. 255)
Besides the minsters and the later religious foundations, lesser urban churches were also emerging. By 1086 they certainly included the church (templum) of St. Peter in the market place, and the minster (monasterium) of St. Mary, which stood near St. John's, to which it was linked liturgically. (fn. 256) It seems likely that St. Bridget's and perhaps St. Olave's and St. Michael's also existed by then. (fn. 257) In any case, all Chester's nine medieval parish churches had been founded by c. 1150; doubt attaches only to the chapel of St. Chad, for which there is no evidence before the earlier 13th century. (fn. 258)
The main responsibility of the lesser churches was presumably as centres for the administration of the sacraments; probably none, except St. Mary's on the Hill, with its large extramural parish, had a burial ground. (fn. 259) How many parish boundaries within the city were already fixed is not clear; it may be in some instances that, as elsewhere, the main factor was the pattern of occupation rather than the ownership of property. Nevertheless, the city's parochial structure was probably established before 1200. (fn. 260) The largest parish was that of St. Werburgh. Though the abbey precinct was itself extra-parochial, the parish church attached to it had responsibility not only for areas of the city within and without the walls, but for numerous rural townships as well; in part at least the remnants of the early minster territory, they also seem to have included some of the abbey's later endowments. (fn. 261) St. John's parish was much smaller, largely confined to the bishop's estates east of the walled town, and extending to Boughton, (fn. 262) but another large extramural area was attached to St. Mary's on the Hill, a church founded in the mid 12th century to serve the castle and the administration based there; possibly that parish was shaped by the territories attached to the castle. (fn. 263) Of the remaining churches, St. Peter's was wholly intramural, occupying an irregular area in the centre of the city perhaps determined by the urban estate on which it seems to have been founded. (fn. 264) To the south lay the two churches with Hiberno-Norse dedications, of which St. Bridget's with its larger and dispersed parish was probably earlier. (fn. 265) Between the main intramural portion and the extramural Earl's Eye lay not only St. Olave's but also St. Michael's, while to the west lay St. Martin's. The origins of the last two cannot be determined, though St. Martin's at least was probably relatively late. (fn. 266)