GUEST POST BY RALPH MURPHY
It has long been the case that members of the Norwood family in its many manifestations, claim descent from King Harold Godwineson, otherwise known as Harold II who was killed at Hastings in 1066, through his son Alnod or Ulf. I followed the convention in my book on John Norwood VC by citing the researches of Marian Callum Norwood, the noted genealogist and family historian who did much to develop the histories of the various branches of the family. I met her in the 1990s when she was already quite old but still full of enthusiasm. In the many years since Marion’s death however, others who have followed her work more critically have taken issue with the absence of a credible connection between Jordanus of Sheppey, the 12th century patriarch of the family from whom the Norwood clan indubitably descended and Alnod or Ulf, the son of Harold.
Marion goes wrong early in Volume Two of the Norwood books by referring to Alnod as the eldest son of Harold and Edith; he was not. The title of eldest son belongs to Godwine who fled to the continent after various attempts post-Conquest to achieve power. That said, her formidable research into heraldry and the translation of the Domesday Book for Kent by Lambert Blackwell Larking which she used, revealed that Alnod had very significant holdings indeed around Kent which after the Conquest fell into the hands either of Odo of Bayeux, or William himself or the Canterbury Archdiocese. We verified these findings ourselves by examining the same document at the Kent Archives in Maidstone in both translations of Domesday. Larking uses “Alnod Cilt” as his translation, but the modern interpretation in a Domesday translation edited by John Morris is “the young Alnod”. He will therefore be identical to Ulf who was a young teenager at the Conquest but who was endowed with significant land.
Also featuring large in the Domesday record is Wulfnoth, born circa 1035, the youngest brother of Harold. He was captured after Hastings, held in Normandy, transferred to Winchester Castle by William Rufus on his release in 1087 by William on his deathbed and then allowed to join a monastery where he died around 1094 in his late fifties – early sixties. His place in the family is often confused with the children of Harold.
According to the book “Harold, the Last Anglo Saxon King” by Ian Walker, the descendants of Harold and his hand fast wife Edith in terms of seniority were; Godwine, Edmund, Magnus, Gytha, Ulf and Gunnhild. He had a son Harold from his conventional second marriage to Aeditha, who was too young to play any role in the Conquest and indeed is thought to have been born after Harold’s death. However, he may well be the son involved years later in the abortive Norwegian attacks on Dublin and Anglesey and must be presumed to have settled in Scandinavia.
Alnod or Ulf was also seized after Hasting (where he was too young to fight) and confined in Normandy. But later, like Wulfnoth, he was released by William on his deathbed, reportedly at the urging of the church, as an act of mercy. There is evidence that William’s estranged son, Robert Curthose, the next Duke of Normandy, took a shine to Ulf and knighted him not long after.
Robert Curthose has been ill served by historians who have failed to look behind tainted contemporary sources all of whom have their own reasons for a critical view. A recent book about him by William Aird, a lecturer in medieval history at Cardiff is more even handed. Aird brings out in particular that his leading role in the First Crusade (1095-99) made him one of the most famous warriors of his time, returning to Western Europe in 1100 as a chivalric hero with a reputation that extended from Palestine to Scotland.
Aird writes that in the 11th century the dubbing ceremony was the granting of weapons to a new Knight who was deemed capable of holding land and bearing arms to defend it; this honour was usually awarded to young men and had connotations of social status partly derived from personal ancestry but also by association with the Lord making the grant. It seems clear that Ulf’s privileged retention in Normandy after Hastings led to a close relationship with Robert which could only be recognised on the death of the Conqueror who evidently harboured a strong antipathy to the Godwins.
It is inconceivable that Ulf would not have remained close to his benefactor and fought with him during the many actions that troubled Normandy from the rivalry between Robert and his siblings, William Rufus and Henry. It is equally improbable that Ulf did not accompany him as a mature warrior when he went on the Crusade. This service would have been the most evident route towards reacquiring and retaining his ancestral lands, the defence of which was an inherent element in the knight’s role.
Ulf’s aspirations to land were associated with Kent, so after his formal release in 1087, and after his belting as a knight, he is likely to have sought restoration. By this time, his Anglo-Saxon identity would have been transformed by 20 years of Norman tutelage. It is clear that Alnod or Ulf once had major manorial holdings in Kent which overlap with the later location of the Jordanus/Norwood family, thereby consolidating the supposed connection. Alnod’s former lands are well laid out from Domesday in Marion’s third book and cover widespread manors in Alnod’s name from Rochester to Dover, embracing Canterbury, Whitstable, Sheppey, Thanet, Norwood, Chart Sutton and many more. These had been held by Alnod /Ulf from King Edward, presumably from childhood, but were subordinated to the feudal over-lordship of Odo of Bayeux, William’s half-brother and the Church after the Conquest. Marian asserts that Alnod recovered some of these and that they continued in the possession of Jordanus of Sheppey and the Norwoods for 300 years.
Aird states that there is no complete record of the knights who served Robert and who participated in the First Crusade which was known to be hazardous but Pope Urban had said that “by the will of God, he absolved all penitents from their sins from the moment that they took the cross of Christ”, which produced a surge of participants. Around 60,000 soldiers took part in the Crusade of which around 6,000 were knights and a further 30,000 provided support. This is not the moment to detail the history of the Crusade but the crowning moment for Robert was in August 1099 when after victory in Jerusalem, the crusaders were confronted by an Egyptian Fatimid army at Ascalon, southwest of Jerusalem. Robert commanded the centre division of the Crusader Army and charging at the heart of the Egyptian camp, personally captured the Viziers banner and his tent. The Emir was lucky to escape leading to a great victory for which Robert’s part was much celebrated. After the battle and before beginning the return home, Robert completed his pilgrimage by immersing himself in the River Jordan. It was this act which encouraged crusaders to give themselves the soubriquet “Jordanus”.
Alnod/Ulf appears to disappear from history after 1087 but the change of name to either Jordanus and/or John of Northwoode may contribute to this apparent obscurity. If Robert was his master, the latter’s continuous attempts to challenge at first William Rufus and later Henry 1 for the throne of England, in between battling with his neighbours in France, eventually lead to ignominy. He was bamboozled by Henry I into taking a very large pension in lieu of his claim, which was soon in arrears leading to conflict in which Robert ended as the loser. Henry invaded Normandy in 1106, defeating Robert at the battle of Tinchebray, he then imprisoned his brother in Devizes Castle for 20 years and later moved him to Cardiff where he ended his life in 1134; he is buried in St Peter’s in Gloucester. Tinchebray is in the Orne region of lower Normandy, the scene of much fighting after the D Day landings.
The obvious conclusions that one draw from this story is that Alnod/Ulf after his release from nominal confinement in Normandy, receiving his knighthood and giving service to Robert, was able to claim back at least some his lands. His 20 or so years in Normandy had “normanized“ him. He would have been required of course to offer continued service to Robert – after all, his knighthood involved obligations, but this did not mean that he had to stay in Normandy. It was timely to pursue land claims in the late 80s in Kent because the Church under Archbishop Lanfranc had initiated proceedings, with William’s blessing to strip Odo of Bayeux of lands that he had misappropriated after the Conquest, especially from the Church but also from previous holders such as Alnod/Ulf.
The Trial of Penenden Heath may well have had a role in restoring Alnod/Ulf’s fortunes, although this occurred when he was still in Normandy, as its effects were far reaching. The Trial occurred in the decade after the Conquest probably in 1076, and involved a dispute between Odo of Bayeux , the half-brother of William and Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others. Odo de Bayeux was previously Earl of Kent and the primary landowner of the region subsequent to his half-brother William the Conqueror’s victory in 1066. In 1070, Archbishop Lanfranc succeeded to Canterbury and requested an inquiry into the activities of Odo (and Lanfranc’s predecessor, Stigand) who had allegedly defrauded the Church (and possibly the Crown) during his tenure as Earl of Kent.
It has subsequently been argued that most of the lands had been lost not to Odo, but to Earl Godwine (Harold II’s father) and his family during Edward’s reign and perhaps even earlier and that Odo had simply succeeded to these encroachments. Therefore the conflict between Archbishop and Earl was to a large extent a reprise of that between Robert of Jumièges and Godwine in 1051-2, the suggestion being that Lanfranc, despite being the Prior of a Norman monastery was attempting to restore the pre-conquest landholdings for the Church of Canterbury.
William I determined that the matter should be settled by the nobles of Kent and ordered that an assembly be formed on the heath at Penenden (near present-day Maidstone) for the purpose. William I ordered that the findings of the inquiry or ‘trial’ of Odo de Bayeux were to be final. Various prominent figures in the country at the time were called, which included Geoffrey de Montbray, Bishop of Coutances (who represented the King), Lanfranc (for the Church), Odo de Bayeux (defending himself), Arnost, Rochester Bishop, Athelric II (former Bishop of Selsey), Richard de Tunbridge, Hugh de Montfort, William de Arsic, Hamo Vicecomes and many others.
Athelric II in particular had been compelled by William I to attend as the authority on pre-Norman law. Described as: “A very old man, very learned in the laws of the land “he was brought by chariot or other carriage to Penenden Heath “in order to discuss and expound these same old legal customs”.
The presence of a contingent of English (or Saxon) witnesses as experts in ancient laws and customs as well as the French-born representation is regarded as a significant indication of the basis of the Church’s claims being grounded in the ancient laws of the land. However it is unclear from the sources which of those laws were cited. Precisely when the inquiry was held is also unclear although many historians have determined it took place between 1075 and 1077. Similarly a number of varying transcripts or records of the trial exist and it is unclear which may be regarded as the definitive version of events. The trial of Odo de Bayeux lasted three days and ended in the partial recovery of properties for the church from Odo and others. Odo of Bayeux was later to be stripped of his properties entirely and imprisoned for five years following further challenges to his wealth and powers in 1082.
By all accounts the Penenden trial occurred prior to the Domesday survey and was an early attempt by the church to reclaim rights and interests from the Crown and its agents. Since the assessments of property and rights which followed the trial were of significance, Domesday Book has come to be seen as a response to a need to have a definitive record of the ownership and administration of Crown property.
The Domesday Book was commissioned in December 1085 by William the Conqueror. The first draft was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties
Alnod/Ulf would have been at least around 40 and possibly older when he challenged for the return of his land. His most likely date of birth is around 1050 and possibly later. As Harold’s older sons, starting with Godwine were of an age to contest the throne, post Conquest, it must be assumed that the hand fast marriage with Edith took place in the 1040s with children appearing at regular intervals. This would have made Ulf a young teenager at the Conquest, in his thirties upon his release by William in 1087 and in his late forties during the First Crusade. What appears to be clear and is suggested by a number of references in Domesday is that Alnod/Ulf successfully reclaimed land that we know is associated with the subsequent Northwode holdings. Marion says that Alnod/Ulf had held 20 manors but at the Domesday Survey, none, as almost half had been conveyed to Odo of Bayeux. At Penenden Heath, Alnod’s name is cited as a recent subtenant of Manors which Odo had assumed. The thesis is that on his release and rehabilitation by Robert Curthose, Ulf seized back two parts of Kings Wood on Sheppey which he was allowed to keep not by feudal but by costumal tenure, which effectively recognized the earlier status of his ownership. The source for this is Henry Bracton (c.1210–c.1268) an English cleric and jurist. These properties were also held by gavelkind, which means that they were sellable and not just held in fealty to an Earl.
Notwithstanding these credible assertions, it stretches probability that Alnod/Ulf was the father of Jordanus of Sheppey, as the latter was born in 1135 making Ulf around 80 at the time of his conception. Not impossible but improbable. However, there is a possibility of a link between Ulf and Jordanus – the honorific title passing through a third person. As some commentators have suggested, Jordanus could be the grandson of Alnod/Ulf through an illegitimate or unrecognised son.
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