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The Sussex Rich List 1086
Who were the big names in the Sussex Domesday Book?

The Domesday Book was a record of England's landed wealth. Only fifteen people held manors in Sussex as tenants in chief of the king. So who were these privileged few?

Domesday Sussex 16 tenants in chief
An extract from the Domesday Book, showing a list of Sussex
tenants-in-chief (St Edward's Abbey is not shown here)

King William
William the Conqueror hardly needs an introduction. He held England and everyone held their land either directly from him or from someone else who did. William kept perhaps one fifth of land 'in lordship' for himself to generate his personal income and to keep places around the country that he could call home. He was the illegitimate son of Duke Robert of Normandy and Herleve, probably a tanner's daughter. Robert seems to have murdered his older brother, Duke Richard and then gone off to the Holy Land in penance, never to return. William was left as a 'bastard' child aged eight in 1035, in the hands of a brutally ambitious aristocracy. He was lucky to succeed his father and survive. William beat down rebellions and attacks and set about extending Normandy's power in Europe. In about 1052 he married Matilda, daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders. Matilda's mother was Adela, daughter of King Robert II of France. Duke William sought the pope's blessings for his marriage but discovered that there was a serious impediment, which is not entirely clear today. The pope could not be persuaded to overcome his objections to the marriage for seven years. William claimed the English throne through his great aunt Emma, the Norman mother of the childless English king, Edward the Confessor. William proclaimed that King Harold had usurped the throne from him and therefore attacked Harold in 1066. King William died in 1087, repenting of several of his most brutal acts including the terrible 'harrying of the north'.

The Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop Lanfranc rose from obscurity as an orphan in Pavia, Italy. His father is thought to have been a magistrate. A good education enabled Lanfranc to take up teaching in France and then in Avranches, Normandy. In 1042 he became a Benedictine monk at the Norman abbey of Bec. After three years of total seclusion there, he opened a highly influential school and became the prior of Bec. Already a celebrated figure in 1059, Lanfranc negotiated the pope's confirmation of Duke William's marriage to Matilda of Flanders after others had failed for seven years. Much pleased, Duke William awarded Lanfranc the abbacy of St Stephen's in Caen. This was one of the two Norman abbeys founded by the duke in return for the pope's blessing for his marriage. From this position of influence, it was a natural step for Lanfranc to succeed Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury, the discredited Englishman deposed in 1070. Lanfranc's claim to rule the whole English church was disputed by the archbishop of York. The issue was resolved in Lanfranc's favour by a council of the English church in 1072. Lanfranc was one of those who governed England during the lengthy periods when the king was away. In 1075 Lanfranc suppressed an almost fatal blow to William's kingship, the 'revolt of the earls'. Having assisted the succession to the throne of William Rufus, despite violent opposition, Lanfranc performed the coronation. He died in 1089.

The Bishop of Chichester
King William chose his personal chaplain, Stigand, to replace Aethelric II of Selsey, one of the deposed English bishops. This new Norman bishop is not to be confused with the deposed Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury. Bishop Stigand of Selsey appears in the records by 1070. He set about moving to Chichester in 1075 and is thought to have achieved this by 1082, when he first used the title Bishop of Chichester. Unfortunately Stigand fell out with the king over the 'royal peculiars' in his diocese. There were several of these - church properties answerable directly to the pope via the king, excluding the authority of the bishop. Steyning was one of these royal peculiars but the issue fatal to Stigand's relationship with the king was Battle Abbey. This abbey was established by William at the site of the battle of Hastings. When the abbot was chosen, Bishop Stigand was instructed to attend Battle Abbey to consecrate him. Stigand refused on the grounds that the new abbot should be consecrated in Chichester. The king ensured that Stigand performed the consecration at Battle and humiliated him by denying him lodgings at the abbey. Bishop Stigand also managed to fall out with Lanfranc on a similar issue relating to the archbishop's property in Sussex. We might know more about Stigand had Civil War Parliamentarians not burnt his cathedral records in 1642. Bishop Stigand died in 1089.

The Abbot of Westminster
Gilbert Crispin became the abbot of Westminster in 1085, thanks to the favour of Archbishop Lanfranc. Gilbert remained at Westminster for thirty two years. He was a former pupil of Lanfranc at the abbey of Bec. Gilbert's parents had presented him to this Norman abbey as a child in about 1055. William Crispin, Gilbert's father, was a well connected Norman aristocrat and a patron of Bec Abbey. Eve de Montfort, Gilbert's mother, retired there as a widow. Abbot Gilbert was a trusted confidant of the king. Gilbert's 'friends in high places' also included St Anselm, Abbot of Bec and later Archbishop of Canterbury. Gilbert Crispin was himself an accomplished man, one of the leading intellectuals of his day. Some of his many written works still survive. The new Westminster Abbey, next to the Palace of Westminster, was completed during Gilbert's time to enhance the splendour of royal ceremonial events. Abbot Gilbert presided over many of these. He especially promoted the cult of St Edward the Confessor, the royal founder of Westminster Abbey. Gilbert Crispin was in the powerful position of having ready access to three kings until his death in 1117. His tomb is still in Westminster Abbey.

The Abbot of Fécamp
William of Ros (or Rots) became the abbot of Fécamp in Normandy in 1079. He had already been a cantor, dean and archdeacon of Bayeux. The bishop of Bayeux at the time was the king's powerful half brother, Odo. The family of Ros is well known in later history but whether William of Ros was related is uncertain. Fécamp Abbey had been richly endowed by the dukes of Normandy, who had a palace nearby. Yet King William showed marked coldness towards the abbey after the conquest. Its influence seemed to be in decline until matters were resolved in about 1085, at least in relation to disputes which had arisen in England. The English properties in dispute were all in Sussex, including Steyning, and had been given to Fécamp Abbey before 1066. But Fécamp's fortunes had not recovered their height. In 1088, a charter of King William's son, Duke Robert of Normandy, restored some property in Fécamp "which his father had in wrath taken from the abbey before the day of his death." Immediately afterwards Robert of Mortagne built a castle on this same land. Duke Robert later attacked and destroyed the castle on behalf of Fécamp Abbey in response to Abbot William's entreaties. When the archbishop of Rouen placed an interdict on Normandy, intending to bring Duke Robert to heel by suspending the services of the church, William of Ros successfully renewed his abbey's claims of independence from the archbishop. The historian Orderic Vitalis noted the piety and integrity of William of Ros. He established a leper hospital at Fécamp for returning crusaders. He seems to have visited England more than once. In 1103 a dispute arose between Fécamp Abbey and Philip of Braose, lord of Bramber, the abbey's neighbour in the English property of Steyning, The abbot of Fécamp attended King Henry's court in Salisbury with a large retinue and the dispute was settled in Fécamp's favour. William de Ros died in 1108 and his tomb can still be seen at Fécamp.

Bishop Osbern of Exeter
Osbern fitz Osbern came from a very famous family. He was the brother of William Earl of Hereford, who had masterminded the conquest but died in 1071. Their father was Osbern the Steward, son of the Duchess Gonnor's brother. Their mother was Emma, descended from Duke Richard I's mother. Many years before, Osbern the Steward had been murdered as he protected the young Duke William (the Conqueror) from an attack in his bed chamber. Osbern's family was therefore especially favoured by King William, although Earl William's son Roger was disgraced in the 'revolt of the earls' in 1075. Bishop Osbern had served as King Edward the Confessor's chaplain, being a cousin of Edward's Norman mother Emma. Bosham church in Sussex was given to Osbern for life. After the conquest he served King William and was created bishop of Exeter in 1072. The historian William of Malmesbury praised Osbern for his simple English manners (which endeared him to those who had affectionate memories of Edward the Confessor), his frugality, his bounty towards the poor and his blameless character. English churchmen had preferred to retain their venerable old buildings, unlike the Normans who were driven to build anew. Therefore, since he did not initiate a building programme at Exeter, Osbern was held in great affection by the people. Near the end of his life Osbern became embroiled in a dispute with Battle Abbey about its new priory, built close to Exeter Cathedral. The priory monks established a graveyard and rang their bells, to the great annoyance of the cathedral chapter. Both the archbishop of Canterbury and the pope ruled in favour of Battle. Osbern became infirm and lost his sight before he died in 1103.

Winchester Abbey
Riwallon became the abbot of New Minster, Winchester in 1072. He was formerly the prior of Mont Saint Michel. The New Minster abbey was immediately to the north of the Old Minster cathedral. The land was purchased in the last year of King Alfred the Great's reign and New Minster was founded in 901 according to his wishes. King Alfred was reinterred there and it was richly endowed by the English royal family. The abbey suffered a serious fire, unfortunately just before the conquest. It has been said, though it may not be entirely true, that King William deprived and neglected the abbey because the English abbot and some of the monks fought and died for Harold at the battle of Hastings. More damaging, perhaps, was the rebuilding of the cathedral nearby and a new royal palace built on its cemetery, which crowded and flooded the site of New Minster. When Riwallon died in 1088, New Minster fell on even more hard times. In 1091, during the reign of William Rufus, the king's corrupt chancellor Ralph Flambard sold the abbacy to Herbert Losinga, Bishop of Norwich, for his father Robert who then died two years later. After a brief respite from scandal and neglect, 1109 saw the end of the story. Under King Henry I, New Minster was moved just outside the city gates of Winchester to Hyde Meade and renamed Hyde Abbey. It is because of New Minster's unfortunate history after 1066 that little is known about Abbot Riwallon.

Battle Abbey
Gausbert became Battle Abbey's first consecrated abbot in 1076. Building work had only begun in 1070. The first monks came from Marmoutier Abbey on the Loire with their chosen abbot, Robert Blanchard who tragically drowned on a sea crossing to England in 1067. Gausbert appeared from Marmoutier with four more monks as Blanchard's replacement. When the monks first saw the swampy clay beneath the ridge on which they were instructed to build, with the altar on the spot where King Harold had died, they began to build on a more comfortable site. The king forced them to begin again on the intended spot. Unmentioned in the record is the probable contamination of the entire area by the remains of the battle. The living conditions were bad, the work progressed slowly and Bishop Stigand of Chichester was hostile to the new abbey. The king intended Battle to be a 'royal peculiar', independent from the diocese. Bishop Stigand refused to consecrate Gausbert at Battle and demanded that he travel to Chichester. The king not only overruled Stigand but humiliated him by refusing him access to lodgings at the abbey. King William had given Battle Abbey jurisdiction over all the land within one and a half miles of the altar, which led to several local disputes. The Abbot of Marmoutier even dared to demanded homage from Battle Abbey, adding to their woes. Gausbert was evidently confident, in refusing this homage, that the king would support him. The pope had instructed William to build Battle Abbey in penance for the slaughter at the battle of Hastings and there is no doubt that the king intended it would be so. Norman veterans also gave generously for the salvation of their own souls. Many problems arose as the great battle was forgotten by succeeding generations. Gausbert, however, had the support of two successive kings and overcame the problems that beset him with remarkable success. He died in 1095.

St Edward's Abbey
This abbey for nuns was in Shaftesbury. Abbess Eulalia is the only woman who appears on the 1086 Sussex rich list. Archaeological evidence suggests that the east end of the abbey was completed while Eulalia was the abbess between 1074 and 1106. She was probably Norman and under her rule the abbey flourished. Eulalia was in every respect equal to her male peers. Although nothing has been traced of her origins, her name is mentioned in records which suggest that she was a woman of some fame. St Anselm had special ties with the Shaftesbury nuns. His first letter to Eulalia was composed in 1094 when he became the archbishop of Canterbury. In this letter he acknowledged the zealous spirit of the community. He emphasised his need of their prayers in regard to his difficulties with the king, William Rufus. In 1104 he wrote to Eulalia from exile in Lyons and on his return in 1106 he thanked the nuns for their steadfast love. St Edward's Abbey had been founded by King Alfred and was originally dedicated to St Mary. St Edward the Martyr was an English king, succeeded by Aethelred, father of Edward the Confessor. The martyr's remains were at Shaftesbury, hence the rededication, and St Edward's lungs were said to be still breathing in Eulalia's time. Shaftesbury retained its status as a royal foundation after the conquest. It accumulated enormous wealth. The noble daughters with their endowments from many well known Norman families became nuns at Shaftesbury. Later it was said that if the abbot of Glastonbury could marry the abbess of Shaftesbury, their heir would hold more land than the king of England.

The Count of Eu
Robert of Eu descended from Richard I, Duke of Normandy. His father William married Leceline of Tourville. Duke William celebrated his marriage to Matilda of Flanders at Eu. Robert commanded a division of the Norman army which defeated the French at Mortemer in 1054. He contributed sixty ships towards the invasion of England and was said to have fought gallantly. Robert was, it seemed, the best man for the job of looking after Hastings for the king after the conquest. His castle and his reputation deterred invaders from this sensitive spot on the coast and kept it clear for transport to and from Normandy. He also fought off a Danish invasion around Lindsey in 1069. His brother Hugh, the bishop of Lisieux, was a powerful ally but another brother, William Busac was disgraced by rebellion and died a refugee in France. The family of Beatrix, Count Robert's wife, has not been identified. Together they founded an abbey at Tréport near Eu. Their son William succeeded after Robert's death in 1090. The vast list of Robert's Domesday property largely fell within the rape of Hastings. The rapes were the six north to south divisions of Sussex which King William entrusted to loyal and proven military men. They each appointed their own sheriff and were tenants in chief, each with their own castle so as to be capable of defending Sussex against the kind of attack which the king himself had achieved.

The Count of Mortain
Robert of Mortain was a half brother of King William. They shared the same mother, Herleve, who married Herluin de Conteville after her affair with Robert Duke of Normandy. Herleve and Herluin founded Grestain Abbey in Normandy and their celebrated sons were Robert of Mortain and Odo, who became Bishop of Bayeux and a powerful man in England. Robert was entrusted with a key defensive territory on the border with Brittany and Bellême when Duke William created him Count of Mortain in about 1049. The count's first wife was Matilda, the daughter of Roger of Montgomery. It is on record thanks to Vitalis of Savigny, Robert's chaplain, that Robert beat his wife. Some historians gave a poor account of his dull character. Nonetheless, Count Robert is said to have helped to plan the invasion of England and provided 120 ships. He appears on the Bayeux tapestry with his brothers William and Odo in Pevensey and fought at Hastings. The king rewarded his brother Robert with almost the whole of Cornwall, the Sussex rape of Pevensey with its castle and much besides. Robert of Mortain joined Robert of Eu in 1069 to defeat a Danish invasion at Lindsey. Despite the enormity of his landed wealth in England, Count Robert then seems to have returned to live in Normandy. He supported his brother Odo in the revolt against King William Rufus in 1088 but was pardoned. In Philip Beresford's book of 2007, The Richest of the Rich, Count Robert is the fourth richest Briton to have lived since 1066, with £59.2 billion in today's money. He died in 1091. The count was succeeded by his son William and was buried at Grestain.

Earl Roger
Roger of Montgomery was the son of another Roger and a wife whose name remains a mystery. His grandmother was a niece of the second wife of Duke Richard I, the Duchess Gunnor. Earl Roger married Mabel of Bellême, which brought to his central Norman inheritance a large territory on both sides of the border between Normandy and Maine. Mabel was a cruel poisoner and murderer, intent on disinheriting landed families who got in her way, which is why in 1077 her head was severed in an act of revenge as she lay in her bed. Roger then married Adelaide of Le Puiset. Roger first appears in the records of Duke William at around the time of the siege of Domfront in the early 1050s. Orderic Vitalis recorded that he was prudent and wise. The Roman de Rou by Wace describes how Roger commanded a large part of the Conqueror's army at Hastings, although modern historians believe he was more probably in Normandy, guarding its borders and governing with Duchess Matilda. Either way, Roger was part of the duke's inner circle who jointly planned the expedition. He was rewarded with extraordinary wealth across England. He was first charged with protecting a large portion of Sussex - the joint rapes of Arundel and Chichester. His abbey in Alménêches received gifts in Sussex. Roger later gained nearly all of Shropshire, with the castle at Shrewsbury, guarding the Welsh marches alongside the earls of Hereford and Chester and making aggressive inroads into Wales. He gave his name to Montgomery in Wales. By 1086 Odo of Bayeaux had been disgraced, leaving Roger as the wealthiest man in England. It seems that Roger's about turn, first supporting Duke Robert of Normandy and then William Rufus for the crown of England, was decisive to the outcome. Roger founded Shrewsbury Abbey shortly before his death in 1094, became a monk and was buried there. He is usually styled the first earl of Shrewsbury. Roger's oldest son, Robert inherited in Normandy and also in England after his brother Hugh, the second earl of Shrewsbury, died without a son.

William of Warenne
William's mother Beatrice was probably the daughter of a niece of Duchess Gunnor, wife of Duke Richard I. William's father Ranulf passed his inheritance to his older son, also Ranulf, leaving William to make his own fortune. He did this by proving his worth to Duke William at the battle of Mortemer in 1054. He was rewarded with his disgraced uncle's lands of Mortemer. Bellencombre became his main castle. William was at the council called by Duke William to plan the invasion of England. He fought at the battle of Hastings and his vast reward was land in thirteen counties of England. William held Castle Acre in Norfolk and Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire. He was also lord of the Sussex rape of Lewes. In 1071, William went to the Isle of Ely to hunt down the rebel Hereward the Wake. Around the year 1080, William and his wife Gundred stayed at Cluny Abbey in Burgundy and decided to establish a Cluniac priory in Lewes. Gundred's brother Gherbod, a Flemish favourite of Queen Matilda and formerly the earl of Chester, had become a monk there after the battle of Cassell in 1071. William supported William Rufus after the Conqueror's death and was rewarded with the earldom of Surrey. According to the Sunday Times in its Millennium Rich List, William of Warenne is the richest Briton to have lived since 1066. His wealth totals £57.6 billion in today's money. The same list, published in a book by Philip Beresford in 2007, placed him second with £73.9 billion (Alan Rufus was first.) William of Warenne has also featured as number thirteen in a list of the richest people who ever lived. He was fatally wounded by an arrow at the siege of Pevensey castle in 1088 and buried at Lewes priory. William's son, also William, succeeded him.

William of Braose
William's father has not been traced by genealogists. William's mother, only known as Gunnor, became a nun at the Abbaye aux Dames in Normandy, one of two founded by Duke William and Matilda in return for the pope's agreement to their marriage. The name of William's wife is also uncertain. It is not known how William gained Briouze and other property in Normandy or why he was given the Sussex rape of Bramber, along with English land elsewhere. Given that the other Sussex rape holders were from the king's military inner circle and family, it seems likely that William was of similar status. Several well preserved charters in which William endowed priories in Briouze and at Sele, near Bramber, offer few clues. He favoured the abbey of St Florent at Saumur in Anjou. William fought in Maine with the king in 1073. The proximity of his castle to Steyning, the property of Fécamp Abbey, brought him into conflict with Fécamp after 1085. From 1066 until 1085, the king had shown little favour to Fécamp. William of Braose, who took charge of Bramber castle by 1073, had made inroads into Fécamp's rights and property with impunity. The king and his full court then decided that William should make reparations to Fécamp. His only son, Philip succeeded him upon his death between 1093 and1096.

Odo of Winchester and Aldred
These two shadowy figures were English. As tenants in chief who survived the Norman land grab, they are remarkable. They can be seen in other parts of the country in the Domesday Book as the brothers Oda and Ealdred, with the status of king's thegns. Such men were generally retained for services necessary to the king, often crafts or skills that were highly valued. Oda was a steward and Ealdred was a forester. They held small parcels of land in Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon. Ealdred's wife produced embroidery for Queen Matilda. Both men owned property in Winchester. Thanks to information provided for Devon, we know that their father was named Eadric.


The Phillimore Edition of Domesday Book Sussex

Domesday Book Sussex

The Phillimore Edition of Domesday Book Sussex is available at Steyning Museum library for the use of visitors. There is also a complete set of the Sussex Archaeological Society's annual volumes and much more about local Domesday names and places.


Domesday Book Online
About Domesday and 200 known land holders.

The National Archives
A lot of information about Domesday, including images of the entry for each location that can be downloaded at a small cost

Open Domesday
The complete searchable Domesday Book online.

The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, a database of the inhabitants of England from the late 6th to the late 11th century, including information from the Domesday Book.

The Domesday Book entry, with useful links.

BBC Domesday Reloaded
A project originated in 1986 to record a modern Domesday online

In Our Time
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Domesday Book on BBC Radio 4.

British History Online
Access to all Sussex County History volumes and more.

Orderic Vitalis
Read the Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy by Orderic Vitalis in an out-of-copyright English translation on the Internet Archive website. A variety of formats are available.

William of Malmesbury
Read William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the Kings of England: From the earliest period to the reign of King Stephen. This is an out-of-copyright translation available as a free Ebook. A variety of formats are available.

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