The harrying of the North

Principal investigator: Jack Saxton
Level: PhD level research

Research outline: The harrying of the north. This notes accompanies the application for PhD studies to the Department of archaeology, University of York. Historians generally agree that the harrying of the north did take place. Palliser cites Freeman claiming 'William made it [The North] A wilderness and called it a peace'. Maitland viewed the harrying as deliberate devastation and Vinogradoff labelled it 'a war of extermination'. These claims are largely based on chronicles which were mostly sub contemporary and often point to the liberal use of the term 'waste' in Great Domesday. Orderic Vitalis described the scorched earth north of the Humber yet the historic/Northern counties stretched across Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland, Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire, too vast an area for any body of men to travel let alone 'lay waste'. Notwithstanding this potential impracticality, Symeon of Durham claimed there remained no inhabited village from York to Durham and William of Malmesbury told of 'no land being tilled for over 60 miles'. There is evidence of planned villages emerging after the Harrying but not just in Yorkshire-villages distributed across Surrey appear in similar form to those around Durham yet commentators have often attributed a sole cause for any destruction or disturbance and establishment of nucleated villages in the North, to the Harrying. Even current local history records link the Harrying to places listed in Domesday as 'waste' and to evidence of redevelopment village plans in many locations such as East Yorkshire (Richards 2001; Sheppard 1976, 9-10; Stamper 2011, 5, Foster theposthole.org). The text in Domesday book itself was only better known after it was published in 1783 and facsimiles were available in the 1860s. Although there still exists a contentious matter of its practical usefulness in the 12th century, its reason for existence has been manipulated through later centuries:- 1 To conquered Anglo-Saxons it was symbol of Norman oppression. 2 For Late 14th century villeins it held out hope of escape from the burden of labour. 3 By the 17th century it was considered a clear account of life in the reign of William. 4 And through the Victorian era it became a cult object. Roffe labels it 'nothing if not ideological' even casting doubt on the 'great underestimation of the recording of 81000 ploughs. Most historians however have settled for Domesday book being a mixed function and purpose:- 1 A description of economic resources and fiscal (geld) assessment. 2 It is arranged in a tenurial or feudal format identifying owners and consequently resolved disputed ownership. As such the inquest itself was an extensive consultation and negotiation. 3 It recorded total resources of the country, county by county and landowner by landowner and was used to determine tenure throughout the next two centuries. William's military excesses in the North were also expressed clearly in the Bayeux Tapestry. Yet the Bayeux tapestry was one of the most powerful pieces of visual propaganda ever produced (Lewis, 1999) and like the Ecomium Emmae was written with a clear defensive purpose. Lewis's 'silent voices' and the Tapestry's 'functional moment' being 'now' and not 'then' - allowed the exploration of a continuously widening present communication for the elite viewer. It rectified and reaffirmed the Norman view of a process over time and admirably and explicitly created bias. Its unreliability may hinder the extraction of the truth concerning the Harrying. Scepticism of historical sources regarding the Norman conquest and its consequences. So the scholarly debates to date have largely focused on historical record and their interpretation. The weakness of such debate may lie in various areas. Nine manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle survive, in whole or part, not all arguably are of equal historical value and non are original versions. One version was still being actively updated in 1154. The bias of the Chronicle is exhibited in the relationship between seven of the different manuscripts and like any historical source must be treated with caution. Reference to the Harrying from sub contemporary sources must also be treated cautiously:- Symeon of Durham amplified Florence of Worcester from 1129, William of Malmesbury wrote in 1125, Hugh the Chanter in the 1120's and Alfred of Beverley in the 1140's. Reiteration of earlier views, views based upon self interest or fulfilment and distance from witnesses to the facts add up to errors or at least misjudgment. Today's written version of events occurring in WW2 will differ from fact in the same manner. The possible over reliance on the significance of 'waste' in the Yorkshire Domesday leads to doubt that a small number of men could inflict so much damage, so quickly in such a great area as the North. Similarly Domesday leaves large blanks across the North Yorkshire moors and also upland areas were not well settled. Indeed not all areas designated as 'waste' were devastated and some rural communities were prosperous. Darby labels Domesday Book as an 'incomplete record of placenames' - although 13400 placenames were recorded 3% remain unidentified. The inconsistencies of the circuits of Domesday Book, the imperfect count of population and enigmatic measurements all at least point to imperfection and unreliability. Dodgson goes further and heralds mishearings, misspelling, mispronunciations, misreading and miscopying at each stage of the Inquest as key issues in the production of an inaccurate final version. And Galbraith reiterates how 'we all marvel at the efficiency and speed with which the great survey was conducted' between Christmas 1085 and 9 September 1087. There have emerged various views regarding the context and definition of 'waste' , in that it may have been an accounting device to label land below a set productive level or even where a tenant could not be found. Waste land may have become part of woodland/forests or have been identified as not being able to guarantee long-term, permanent or safe collecting of rents. Dispossession of land was not immediate but gradual, especially in the wake of uprising and rebellions between 1067 to 1071. This resulted in a highly complex and confused pattern of landholding leading to many uncertainties as to legal title. Local hostility and numerous lawsuits ensured the longevity and continuity of the reconciliation and dispossession process. The distribution of land described as 'waste' is patchy, inconsistent and gives little weight to the traditional theory that it resulted from the Harrying. Indeed the history of Yorkshire shows that it was always at war-from Scottish and Danish raids alone. As the largest county, its terrain and lack of roads again cast doubt on the ability of a campaign of a few months to sustain such damage. Domesday Book may have simply reflected the actual conditions of 1086;- 1 There is little evidence that lowland areas had gone out of cultivation. 2 Genuine waste existed along coast lines, into the Pennine districts and areas able to be reached by Scots raiders within one or two days. 3 The effects of slow settlement and late/weak assertion of Norman power across Pennine areas to South Teeside. Arguably whatever happened 17 years earlier, had left few direct economic traces on the Yorkshire reported in 1086. Having said this although waste may have been used in a variety of ways, Yorkshire is still seen as the 'lost village county'. The value of archaeology By reference to the 'Archaeologies of the Norman Conquest' comparatively few archaeologists have used 11th and 12th century evidence from artefacts, buildings, coinage, landscape, diet/cuisine and skeletal and environmental data to take forward the rationale of the Norman conquest and its consequences. Carver views that design is different for every project and that all method and theories are subsumed in the design process. Consequently flexibility of application is necessary in the development and design of a research proposal in respect of furthering research into the Harrying. If archaeological investment is a creative activity for inventive people then creativity is key to the successful building of this brief and arguably it can only be done effectively whilst the research is actually in progression. A comparative study of evidence-numismatic, artefact, landscape and environmental is proposed, assessing specified areas within Yorkshire against a selected area which is allegedly unaffected by the so-called Harrying of the Conqueror. This would enableassessment and interpretation of any differences in number or type of remains, and consequences in any military sense, in order to attempt to highlight and differentiate any geographical areas affected or unaffected by substantive intervention. It is proposed that a visibility template and database is developed in order to record and assess such objects between Yorkshire and Lincolnshire-due to their locational proximity and as Lincolnshire specifically the Isle of Axholme was proposed as the retreat base of Anglo-Saxons from the Harrying. A deep dive and comprehensive review of grey literature within the Archaeology Data Service will bring to the debate key data and views for reinterpretation. Similarly the coordination of data from multidisciplinary fields will enrich the debate. Carver's recommendation for 'cyclical thinking' encompassing a continuous process of 'observation, interpretation and looking again' will be key to success, as will engagement with key academic parties and local communities. Carver's view that there is no link between the commercial archaeology sector and universities may also be repaired through the methodology employed in this study. Not one of Yorkshire's entries in Domesday attributes a cause to military harrying. Only one is actually listed in Harbury, Warwickshire. Extensive utilisation of data gathered from commercial archaeologists across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, Portable Antiquities Scheme data analysis, coin hoard database development, coordination, analysis and interpretation will all assist in contributing to the re-evaluation of the long standing narratives in place regarding the Norman Conquest and its consequences. Notwithstanding it is time for the archaeology sector to throw its weight into this debate, this whole topic is of course too large to be covered completely and after the research has commenced redirection, reconvening and reassessment between interested parties will be critical to its success. It is hoped that this proposal in no way hinders any plans already in place from the Principal Investigator (Aleks McClain) and Lead Research Organisation (University of York) in the Archaeologies of the Norman Conquest Project. Hopefully this PhD research proposal will add to its overall value.

Tutor: Aleksandra McClain

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