|Subject:||A planned monastic town and its settlers|
|Original source:||British Library Ms. Cotton Domitian A ii, ff. 15v-18v, 21v|
|Transcription in:||J.S. Brewer, ed.. Chronicon Monasterii de bello, London: Anglia Christiana Society, 1846, pp.12-21.|
The surrounding banlieu having been brought into the possession of the abbey, and the construction of that church likewise proceeding, numerous men were recruited many of them from neighbouring regions, and more than a few from parts overseas. To each of them those monks who were in charge of the construction work allocated a messuage of specific dimensions in the surrounds of the [abbey] site. These can still be seen today as they were originally laid out, with their customary rent and service. Those messuages are as follows:
1. The first messuage stands on the north side of the gateway
to the [abbey] courtyard, next to the house
for pilgrims, called the hostel. It was held by Brihtwin,
who was the beadle.
Along the other stretch of the road
66. Orgar's, 14d. and labour.
On the east side of St. Mary's
87. The messuage of Wulfwin Scot, 7d. and labour.
Along the other part of the road
92. Juliot Lupus', 7d. and labour.
On the other side of the road, alongside the monks' wall
102. The messuage of Elfwin Hachet, 7d. at the feast of St. Thomas and labour.
The town of Battle, laid out as these messuages of pre-determined dimensions, can be seen to have remained in the same shape up to the present day. As mentioned above, all accordingly have the obligation to provide, from each household, a man for one day for haymaking and for repairing the mill; each of whom will receive one and a half loaves of bread and something to accompany it. Also they are to make malt, should it prove necessary, each of them [from] one seam [of grain]. An abbey servant, using a horse belonging to the monks, is obliged to carry each seam to each house and deliver them to the tenants. Once the malt has been produced, the tenants must turn over the correct amount to the abbey; on which day each of them should have two loaves with something good to accompany it. In the same fashion, if it proves necessary during haymaking or mill-work to go for more time than is the legal requirement, they cannot be forced to do so; but, when requested, they should go if they can. Yet if anyone is preoccupied with other business and unable to go, he should not be charged with it in court nor be fined for it. And the same principle holds in regard to the regulation for the making of malt.
The men of this town are called burgesses, because of the superior privileges of this pre-eminent place. When they violate secular law in any regard so that they are impleaded and liable to being fined the case being tried before the abbot or the monks or their officials if convicted, they are to provide surety for payment of a fine of [up to] fifty shillings specified by royal custom, at the discretion of the presiding officer. And when a new abbot comes into office at the abbey, the burgesses of the place are to pay the abbot one hundred shillings for their liberties.
In Sandlake are 31 acres stretching as far as the [abbey] infirmary; which place is called Dune. On the other side of the road, where part was once used as a vineyard, and in Celvetege these being on the south side of the church -- are an estimated 36 acres. Next to these, in the land of Chapenore, there are fifteen acres, besides 12 acres held by the church of St. Mary.
There is a certain piece of land, lying between the orchard adjacent to the abbey precinct and the fish-pond on the south side [of the abbey?]; this is called Quarrere and there are 4 acres there.
On the other side of the road, next to the orchard which adjoins the house called the hospital, are two acres in Herste. Next to them there is a messuage with two acres belonging to it, where the clothing of the monks is washed, and another three acres there.... On the west side of the town lie ten acres of the best land some of which, being cultivated, give a plentiful yield of corn....
Next to the town, on the east side, are 11 acres belonging to the fief of Ucheham and they pay 11d. This land is called Cook's land. Beyond these lie 5 acres, reaching as far as the edge of Sandlake, which similarly pay 5d. At that point there is also one acre on which the house called the Gildhall stands....
There are also two gildhalls in the town: one, as stated above, in Sandlake named for the Gild of St. Martin; the other is on the west side of the town, the part called Claverham. There is yet a third outside town, near the fish-pond below Quarrere, for the use of the peasants who live outside the town. So that the abbot must, at particular times of the year, provide them with as much [grain] for making ale as to any of the others; but he shall nominate a poor man on each occasion to take his place and drink with the others. There is an obligation for candles collected from each man to be offered at the altar of St. Martin by the senior members of the gild. At the gild drinkings, if any forfeitures take place in that context, they shall belong to them; but if outside it, then to the abbot. In regard to the deceased, the abbot does not contribute anything when the others do.
This early survival of an urban rental, contemporary with that from Winchester was one of several documents related to Battle Abbey's property endowments, its tenants, and its court jurisdiction, copied in the latter half of the twelfth century by an abbey scribe a man seemingly with some education in the law and perhaps even experience as a lawyer before he became a monk into a set of parchment leaves that were later bound together with a slightly later chronicle of the abbey; it thus became inaccurately identified with that chronicle, though it has more the character of a manorial custumal, recording documents and oral traditions related to the abbey's jurisdictional privileges. This compilation was prefaced by an account of the Norman invasion and victory at the so-called Battle of Hastings, which was repeated more summarily by the later chronicler. The rental itself has been dated by Eleanor Searle to the period 1102-1110, and probably close to 1105.
The Benedictine abbey dedicated to St. Martin, but commonly known as Battle Abbey, was founded by William the Conqueror upon his being required by the Pope (ca. 1070) to do penance for all the bloodshed resulting from his invasion of England. That William was adamant in founding the abbey on the somewhat inhospitable ridge-top site in Sussex where Harold's army had set up its defensive line supports the later abbey chronicler's implication William also had in mind a monument to his victory. The earlier chronicler claimed that William had in fact, just before the battle, vowed to build a monastery there if God gave him victory; but this story is considered a mid-twelfth century abbot's fabrication, arising out of an effort to tie the abbey more closely to the Conqueror's personal plans and persuade Henry II that his predecessor had granted that the abbey should be independent not only of royal officials and obligations, but of any episcopal authority. A writ of Henry I, dated to 1103/06, confirmed to the monks of St. Martin of Battle a purported grant of William I, itself possibly based on forged documentation, referring to a market; Henry's further writ a decade or so later confirmed a Sunday market (modelling the abbey's market rights on those already possessed by Hastings), again based on a suspect charter supposedly issued by the Conqueror, and granted a three-day fair in July. The fair's purpose was to draw more long-distance traders than the weekly market would have attracted, in order to meet some of the needs of the monks that could not be met through local production, and to help sell the wool from abbey flocks.
Regardless of William's true intent in founding his abbey, he wished it to be self-supporting as far as possible, and to this end endowed it generously with manors and patronage of churches in several counties, as well as with jurisdictional privileges and exemptions (such as from toll throughout the realm). He also assigned the abbey a banlieu of all the land within a league of the high altar; the tenants, produce, and revenues of this territorial liberty were to be applied to maintaining the abbey. Donations by other Normans and purchases by the abbey expanded its real estate, although patronage of the monarchy and greater nobility did not persist long, and the abbey never acquired the relics or associations that might have made it a pilgrimage destination. Whether part of William's plan or, more likely, that of the monks subsequently imported from France, it was decided to set up around the abbey a settlement of laymen who could provide labour, specialized services, and commercial goods to the monastic community; the monks themselves were forbidden from engaging in commerce or craftwork (other than that of scribes). Work on the abbey buildings was progressing sufficiently by 1076 that part of the church was usable, the monks brought over from France could move out of the huts they had erected for themselves, and one of them could be appointed as abbot. Not until 1094 was the church complete and able to undergo consecration. By now the Conqueror was dead. He had hoped the monastic community would be a large one, growing to perhaps 140 monks; how far this may have been achieved is dubious, and in 1393 (following outbreaks of plague) only 27 brethren seem to have been in residence. The abbey was nonetheless one of the wealthier religious houses in England for much of the Middle Ages.
Domesday Book makes no mention of any town at Battle in 1086, which cannot be taken as firm proof none existed since that compilation has many gaps; but it does refer to 21 bordars living there as part of a new settlement, not in existence prior to the Conquest. These may have been labourers working on the construction project and living in huts, and the settlement may not yet have been converted to a borough; or, since the abbey banlieu was not part of the royal demesne and its residents were not contributory to royal custom, it may be that the Domesday commissioners had no interest in any community of burgesses already established there. Whichever is the case, the lay settlement had, by the time of the rental, expanded considerably, with 110 tenants seemingly all, or almost all, of them actually resident occupying 114 messuages; other than cases specifically mentioned in the rental, we must assume that tenants with the same name are different persons. Total population is harder to figure out, since we do not know the size of the households of these tenants number of children, number of domestic servants nor whether at this early period any householders had, as was later the case, sublet space (even down to individual rooms) within their tenements to others who, not being men of the abbey in the same way as the official tenants, are ignored by the rentals. A population of around 500, not including the monastic community itself, would be a very approximate estimation.
This growth of Battle's population was a consequence at least partly, and probably largely, of deliberate recruitment, and the settlement was evidently conceived of as a borough a status accorded probably in order to attract settlers to the rather isolated site even though the writer uses the term villa. Thus the town and monastery were closely interdependent from the beginning, the former serving as an intermediary with a secular and commercial world from which the monks needed to be, to some degree, isolated, and the latter acting as the townspeople's main employer and consumer of goods. The monks of Bury St. Edmund's likewise, in the decades following the Conquest, used its banlieu to house soldiers, craftsmen, and traders who provided the monastery with services, and this town became second in importance in Suffolk only to Ipswich, acquiring one of the leading fairs of the country and developing industry specializing in luxury goods such as textiles, bed-covers, books, and bells of the type fair-comers, the monks, and pilgrims to the shrine of St. Edmund might purchase. Battle did not fare so impressively, but it provided a living for a modest population throughout the medieval period.
Searle's detailed and insightful analysis of the rental, combined with comparison with later rentals and other records, has thrown much light on the character of Battle's urban fabric and community. The town was divided into two main districts: Claverham along the main road running north-westwards from in front of the abbey site and Sandlake running south-eastwards along that road. The first was the larger and more populous part, the road there becoming the core of the High Street. The High Street ended at a point where the ridge along which it ran forked, and in the angle of that fork later rentals show a livestock market. Searle argued that this served from the beginning as the marketplace for all commerce positioned at a distance from the abbey to keep the monks free of the bustle, noise, and mess there. But it may be that some marketing took place all down the High Street, from the livestock market to the triangular green in front of the abbey gateway, where the lay community's principal official, the beadle, had his house, and just beyond which was about to be built the parish church. One of the ridges stretching beyond the livestock market also attracted habitation, but of a more rural character or at least less intensive and less evidently commercial/industrial.
The rental of ca. 1105 was compiled in a systematic fashion reflecting these divisions between neighbourhoods. Claverham was covered first, the compiler starting at the abbey gate and proceeding north-westwards along one side of the High Street as far as the livestock market, this stretch comprising messuages 1 to 31; then he returned to the abbey gate, crossed the street towards the future site of the parish church and proceeded along the other side of the High Street. This part of Claverham was, by the thirteenth century, known as Middleborough, but the procedure of the compiler suggests it was already differentiated from the other part. The total number of messuages in Middleborough was 65. After reaching the market for the second time, he continued along the road beyond the fork to cover the less populous part of Claverham, apparently but perhaps informally known by the thirteenth century as Bremblegh, returning to the market at plot no. 86. Returning once more to the abbey gate, he then listed the properties in Sandlake (nos. 87-115): first those on the north side of the road (following it round as it turned south to Hastings), then (one final time returning to the abbey) those on the south side, behind part of which lay the abbey precinct (not yet fully walled). The author then went on to describe the areas that comprised the banlieu, those identified as adjacent to the town boundaries exemplifying the agricultural and pastoral lands ringing Battle.
Assuming that the town took shape in terms of laying out plots, recruiting settlers, and construction of their houses probably between about 1080 and the time it was decided a written rental had become necessary, the tenants listed in the rental of ca.1105 probably include some of the original settlers, some of their widows, and some of their progeny. Keeping in mind that surnames, as fixed and hereditary differentiators, were only just beginning to appear at the time the rental was compiled (we should more strictly talk of by-names at this period), the names of the Battle tenants suggest a number of conclusions about the local population. The bulk of that population was English; 72% of the names were identified by Searle as Anglo-Saxon. Another 17% are potentially either Anglo-Saxon or Norman, given that after the Conquest some Anglo-Saxon families were finding it politic to give their children baptismal names associated with the ruling class, as exemplified by Robert son of Siflet (or Sigeflaed in its Anglo-Saxon form, a matronymic), and a certain amount of intermarriage and cultural fusion between Saxons and Normans was likely taking place. Distinctive but uncommon Norman names, less likely to have been adopted by English families, were possessed by 11% of the residents. This supports the statement by the chronicler that settlers originated both from within England and, in fewer cases, from overseas the latter perhaps including both offspring of followers of the Conqueror, and more recent migrants into a Norman-controlled country.
However, only five tenants had surnames indicative of their place of origin, three being localities over which the abbey had lordship, one just possibly further afield in Hampshire, and the fifth some location in France; it would be surprising if the majority of the immigrants were not drawn from south-east England. Nor were a large number of the tenants distinguished by patronymics; having a parental name appended to the baptismal name might have been meaningful in the case of tenants born to families in the area, but far less so for immigrants from further afield. A modest, out-of-the-way place like Battle was not likely to draw many offspring of fathers who had gained widespread fame for one reason or another, just as its catchment field for ambitious migrants could not expect to compare to those of established cities, or still less that great magnet, London.
While quite a few of the tenants are identified only by their forenames, a number are differentiated through nicknames and still more through their occupations. Though the abbey would have wanted some manual labourers among settlers in the town, still more it would have welcomed men who brought more specialized craft, trade, or other skills which could respond to practical needs of the monastic and burgess communities. Thus we find several makers and menders of shoes the article of clothing most susceptible to wear and tear a couple of craftsmen involved in the production of other clothing, some blacksmiths and carpenters, various tenders of livestock, and several individuals active in victualling trades: cooks and bakers, and the local miller. This kind of mix is also evidenced at the monastic borough of Evesham, where a rental dating about a century later than that of Battle shows "weavers, fullers, carpenters, smiths and a parchment maker ... bakers, cooks, fishmongers, vintners and millers." [ R.H. Hilton, "The Small Town and Urbanisation Evesham in the Middle Ages," Midland History, vol.7 (1982), p.2]. And again at Bury St. Edmunds where, during the decades following the Conquest, we see settling beside the abbey shoemakers, clothiers, bakers, brewers, cooks, washerwomen, and porters, who provide the monks with their services. In addition, Battle's tenants encompassed a number of occupations more exclusively tied to the consumer group of the abbey: bell-founder, sacristans, a steward, and probably also the goldsmith and the gardener.
Most of the identified craftsmen were English, but the ethnic group with the largest proportion of craftsmen was the Anglo-Normans; few were pure Norman. Middleborough is the neighbourhood with the strongest commercial flavour. Such conclusions can only be impressionistic, for the rental's purpose was not to identify the occupations of residents, and needed to do so mostly to clarify which townsperson was being referred to, in distinction from others (whether householders or other members of a household) of the same forename. It would be dangerous to assume that even most of those with whom no occupational or locative surname is associated were agricultural or unskilled manual labourers. At the very least the abbey would surely have taken on immigrant tenants only if they seemed capable, and had some prospect, of earning a living that would enable them to pay their rent.
Tenants with Anglo-Saxon names are distributed evenly through the neighbourhoods of Bremblegh, Middleborough and Sandlake, while those with Norman names are slightly more numerous in Middleborough but few in Bremblegh none of the uncommon Norman names are found there. This, together with the fact that only two Bremblegh residents have occupational identifiers (the pig-keeper and a cook) would support the interpretation of Bremblegh as an area of unskilled, possibly agricultural, labourers a group into which we would not expect Normans to intermarry and which would be less inclined to integrate through the adoption of Norman forenames. Tenants with the unusual Norman names tend to cluster in a particular part of the town in front of the abbey: most on the south-east side of the parish church, a few on the north-west side, and one by the abbey gate this Reinbert de Beche being the single resident whose surname indicates a possible link to a Norman knightly family; none live in what could be considered the most commercial section of town, the stretch of High Street approaching the livestock market. Normans are only thinly scattered in Sandlake, except for one cluster which includes the parish priest and one of the abbey sacristans. Searle suggested that Sandlake represents less a Norman quarter than a neighbourhood of abbey servants and administrators, some perhaps recruited overseas. Whether these seeming differences in neighbourhood character were part of the abbey's plan for the town, effected through messuage allocations, we cannot know, but it is certainly conceivable. I am inclined to suspect that Searle underestimated the Norman character of Sandlake, and that Claverham may represent the original focus for settlement, beginning with the abbey builders, with Sandlake an area of expansion as more immigrants were brought in, including those from abroad, in part to assume functions necessary after the abbey was operational.
Nevertheless, Sandlake should certainly not be thought of as a Norman enclave within the town. It may be because Battle was an entirely new foundation that there was no separate Norman quarter there, such as was established in existing towns like Norwich, Northampton, Nottingham and others that the new overlords needed to garrison, supply, and hold. The strategically insignificant and purely ecclesiastical foundation of Battle was too small a community to need or support separate French and English boroughs, each with their own customs and administrative institutions. There English and Normans lived more, if not wholly, side-by-side and some of the Anglo-Norman names may point to an integration process already underway.
Nor, Searle's analysis led her to conclude, do the tenurial obligations recorded in the rental suggest that any favouritism was shown the Norman tenants. Residents were treated more or less equally, as burgesses. The labour services due are uniform for most tenants. The standard landgable rent appears to have been 7d. per annum, which is in line with many other towns (e.g. Winchester), and reflective of the 5d. to 6d. that has been estimated as the average burgage rent reported in Domesday for the pre-Conquest period, although that average belies the wide range of rents that are actually evidenced in the post-Conquest times, dependent on factors such as the period when a borough was created and a fixed burgage rent put in place. So too it is at Battle, where the rents range from 5d. to 14d. Reasons for these variations may include the size, location, or quality of the plots, as can be seen as a determinative factor at New Winchelsea; although it is less clear at Battle whether such matters were taken into account, rents of properties closer to the livestock market are more variable, and those on the edges of town a little below the average. Post-foundation subdivision or amalgamation of plots is less evident as a factor at Battle; some of the deviations from 7d. are explained in the rental as additional land being held, while tenants of two adjacent plots were charged under double the rent. That two of the bakers were charged higher rents might possibly be explained by them having land sufficient for bake-ovens as well as house, while the third baker worked at the abbey's oven.
Some exceptions to the rule have been made by the abbey. The beadle and his neighbour Reinbert de Beche are not expected to provide labour services in person, but must still find stand-ins. Gilbert the foreigner and his neighbour Eluric of Dengemarsh owed neither rent nor service, these being a case of tenure by serjeanty. The steward of the abbey lands owed neither rent nor services, beyond those associated with his office. Searle speculated that the beadle and the steward were offered these favourable terms specifically in order to recruit men with their administrative capabilities. The other exception Golding, who held two adjacent messuages, but only owes labour services on one is harder to explain; it is not evident that other holders of pairs of plots owed twice as much labour, but if such service was the individual obligation of each tenant, rather than calculated per property, why did the rental compiler choose to elaborate only in the case of Golding?
A few years after Professor Searle's detailed study of Battle a second analysis of the names of the rental tenants, finer and more scientific, was made by Cecily Clark, although not extended into the type of interpretive assessment offered by Searle. She focused on a hundred male baptismal names and on differentiating insular names from names of continental derivation. Ms. Clark's categories were different from those used by Dr. Searle and so the two sets of findings are not directly comparable; Clark was also more conscious of the problems involved in linguistic analysis and identifying the origins of name-forms (onomastics). The conclusions reached by the two scholars were not, however, radically different, and both support the brief statement of the chronicler about the sources of recruited settlers. Clark agreed that most householders were not only English, but native to East Sussex, yet considered that 40% of the names represent continental forms. This would include those resulting from the incipient fashion of the English adopting names brought over by their conquerors and from the process of merger between the French and English cultures. She thus played up a little the significance of immigrants from across the Channel, pointing out that such immigration in the wake of the Conquest is evidenced in other twelfth-century surveys to have survived from English towns, and that its effects could expect to be felt particularly in southern England; furthermore, Battle had links with the continent not only through the French monks King William brought across to form the nucleus of Battle's monastic community, but also through his importation of building stone from Normandy, with which could have come workmen who stayed to help with abbey construction and eventually took up residence.
The burgess community of Battle ca.1105 like most other boroughs of the same period had no charter of liberties from its ecclesiastical overlord and no formal institutions of self-government; unlike most, it never acquired such during the Middle Ages. It was subject to the administration of its seigneurial lord, and the abbey had no interest in, nor can we imagine it intended in its foundation plans, a borough that would head off in independent directions. There are few signs of any communal organization, formal or informal, that might have pursued self-determination through a firma burgi arrangement. Monastic boroughs typically found their lords unwilling to concede greater powers of autonomy, in contrast to boroughs held by the king or other lay lords, who favoured and fostered controlled developments that would make their towns either more lucrative or more cost-efficient. The limited liberties Battle's residents possessed through burgess status were held provisionally though the same was, strictly speaking, true of other urban communities and had to be renewed through a fixed lump-sum payment when any new abbot was installed. Those liberties are not directly specified but included burgage tenure (the fixed rent and rights of alienation of their freeholds) and exemption from any labour services other than those specified in the rental. They most probably included the right to conduct trade from their homes or in the weekly market without payment of any fees or tolls to the abbey and the freedom from toll elsewhere that the abbey had allegedly been granted for itself and its tenants; although we may doubt that any of the burgesses were doing a great deal of trading far afield, the abbey tenants' exemption was recorded in a ldeclaration at Fordwich of the scope of its toll-collecting rights.
Judicial jurisdiction was in the hands of the abbey, with its steward presiding in the abbey's court, which served not only the town but the rural tenants of the banlieu, at sessions that took place roughly once every three weeks, while twice a year larger sessions (called lawdays) were held to administer view of frankpledge and leet jurisdiction. Cases involving townspeople were distinguished from those involving residents of the rural banlieu to an extent, but the separation of these matters in court sessions was not rigid. From 1101 the court had jurisdiction over all civil cases initiated by a plaintiff, whether under common law or local custom; some of those customs were universal to the banlieu while others were exclusive to the borough, the latter including those governing market offences. Many of the customs likely concerned tenurial rights; that this was one of the prime, and probably one of the earliest, concerns of borough custom is evidenced by the earliest chapters of the custumals of Ipswich and Maldon. It was to the benefit of the landlord and of the burgess tenants except in the eyes of those hoping to evade the fees due the abbey for property transfers to take place in the public context court sessions provided, where the community of suitors to the court that is, other householders could act as witnesses to such transactions, giving them more security. From the thirteenth century written charters were used to convey property, but these charters generally were, or purported to be, records of transfers enacted in court and witnessed by suitors. When court rolls began to be kept, from about 1245, they registered in cases where the new tenant would hold directly of the abbey those aspects of transfers of greatest interest to the abbey: not just identifying the property and its new tenant, but also the type of transfer, and the terms (including rent) under which the property was held of the abbey.
The beadle who appears in Battle's ca.1105 rental his English identity perhaps reflecting a recognition that the community was predominantly English in character would have been appointed by the abbey, to collect court fines and rents, and can hardly be considered a leader of the burgesses, although he enforced borough customs and, later, by-laws formulated by the community through the court (much as was done at Maldon). Although to an extent the court was a community institution, for it upheld the rights of members of the community, the only vehicle for communality at the beginning of the twelfth century were the two gilds mentioned as existing in the town, each with its own hall, representing the primary districts of Claverham and Sandlake; a third gildhall located outside of town served the inhabitants of the extra-urban banlieu. That the Sandlake gild was dedicated to St. Martin reinforces the idea of a neighbourhood linked to the monks by ethnicity and dedication to the abbey. These were, from one perspective, drinking-gilds, social more than political or economic in function; membership may have been restricted to the more prosperous residents of each district, who were expected to contribute to the festive gatherings, though we should perhaps rather see them as occasions for communal bonding. However, with their roots in the Anglo-Saxon gild meetings, where tithing-men met to address peace-keeping and other communal concerns, concluding with a shared drink to assure social harmony, they do represent a form of communal organization, in which the more important members played a leading role. There is some intimation that Battle's gilds had disciplinary authority over its members, but the circumstances to which this apply are not clarified by the chronicler. The abbot was an ex officio member of the gilds, although he did not personally participate in the drinking component of gatherings (his steward perhaps standing in on these occasions); this would have enabled him to keep in touch with public opinion and to give the more prominent burgesses an opportunity to express any concerns to him in a non-confrontational setting. We must assume that meetings facilitated discussion of local issues and exchanges of information and opinions, and we might infer that they were for a kind of policing and for collective support of funeral services for members. That the chronicler does not mention such activities only reflects the fact that his interest in gild customs is primarily in ways they bolster, or otherwise directly impact, abbey resources; the same might be said of his scant coverage of local customary law indeed there cannot have been much such law in so young a community and its administration.
We could cautiously categorize the Battle portrayed in the rental of ca.1105 as a 'primitive' borough. This descriptor is not intended to be derogatory but to denote a town in its initial stage of development: a simple linear plan focused on a single highway (the present-day High Street and Upper/Lower Lake road), a small population, a rudimentary economy, a degree of occupational heterogeneity whose scope did not evidently extend beyond local needs (though is sufficient to warrant classing Battle as a town), and under-developed physical and administrative infrastructures. Historians might well be tempted to label Battle as proto-urban or even pseudo-urban; yet the founders clearly envisaged it as a borough the burgage tenure being an almost definitive characteristic; but modern scholars' definition of a town, though still somewhat nebulous, is more rigorous than any that might be posited for the wave of founders of new towns in the Norman-Angevin period, they having utility and benefit in mind rather than scientific categorization. We should also remember that the rental shows a young community only a few decades following the Conquest and almost a century before the men of larger and longer-established Ipswich had become sufficiently self-confident one is almost tempted to say enlightened, but self-interested would be just as accurate, though neither term, embodying assumptions hard to support from concrete evidence, is quite appropriate to make the transition to the status of a self-governing borough.
At this period the burgesses of Battle may by-and-large have been satisfied with the life they had, not so greatly distinguished from their agricultural neighbours. The abbey was not an oppressive overlord; beyond the established tenurial services whether services tied to the individual or to the property held it might call on them at times of particular need for voluntary contribution of additional time and labour, but allowed that some might be unable to help out. Had the abbot proven a harsh lord, the burgesses were free men and could move elsewhere which would not have benefited the abbey. There must have been a sense of communality that incorporated both the abbey and the town, a recognition of mutual dependence. So that if the meadow needed extra work to gather the hay, or the mill extra work to keep in repair, it was as much to the benefit of the burgesses who relied on the mill for flour, and needed hay to keep their livestock alive through the winter as to that of the abbey. The same might be said of the making of malt, for it was in the townpeople's interest to assure that the abbey did not run short of this vital drink, just as it was in the abbey's interest for the monks to intercede with God through prayers for the health and prosperity of their tenants. The limitation on tenurial labour obligations, combined with the fixed burgage rent which remained at the same level into the thirteenth century and the personal freedoms that burgess status endowed were satisfactorily successful as incentives to attract and retain settlers. By the thirteenth century the mill repair and malt-making had disappeared from abbey requirements of the burgesses.
As far as we can see, the era that produced the earliest rental of the burgages was a less complicated time, before, in many boroughs, a handful of the more influential burgesses, ambitious or visionary in terms of taking more control over matters that potentially could bring greater prosperity in a commercializing society sought to lead the community in pursuit of self-government, whether through negotiation or (as often in the case of monastic boroughs) conflict. Like other monastic seigneurs, Battle Abbey was disinclined to accord its burgesses too much independence, not wishing to jeopardize its grip on the revenues that derived from lordship. In a number of other monastic towns, such as Bury St. Edmunds, Cirencester and Reading, this resulted in a power struggle between the two sides. That this was not conspicuously the case at Battle Eleanor Searle attributed to "an ultimate convergence of interest, brought about by the ability to reason together in amity." ["'Inter Amicos': The Abbey, Town and Early Charters of Battle," Anglo-Norman Studies, vol.13 (1991), p.4] But it is also testimony to the fact that the town was neither well-positioned nor well-endowed to find an advantageous niche in the economy of the nation or even the region, which might have fuelled the ambitions of those townsmen best positioned to advance their own socio-economic status by acquiring more control over local affairs. Rather, the borough community of Battle simply served the purpose for which it had been created, to furnish the abbey with labour, goods and services. In the thinking behind the foundation we can see some parallels with the transformation of tiny Cromford, over six hundred years later, into a bustling community provided by the founder with housing, a church, social facilities, and a licensed market to service Arkwright's cotton factory.
Battle's burgesses never obtained, and perhaps rarely felt any great need for, one of those seigneurial charters of liberties that were markers of at least certain aspects of urban development, nor is there any sign of a merchant gild having evolved as a focus for communal ambition and collective action; such things may have been beneficial particularly to larger urban communities with potential for a more competitive role in the national economy and with the internal competition that stemmed from a more pronounced social stratification, but they were not a sine qua non in defining what was a town. Despite those lacks, Battle developed in other regards; not, it seems, as a result of political conflict between opposing interests of abbatial overlord and burgesses, giving rise to legalistic contracts or judicial decisions differentiating the rights of both sides, but through an understanding of their interdependence, an appreciation by each of the other's needs and how these could be met through solutions mutually beneficial, or at least livable.
A later rental, dating from the late 1230s or 1240s a period of considerable geographic mobility, as many villagers sought a better life in towns, and even townsmen might change their home-base to gain economic advantage shows that further population expansion, perhaps combined with some relocation within the town, had resulted in the area of settlement extending along the previously unsettled right-hand branch off the road, where it forked at the north-west end of town. The increase in area and population was sufficient to warrant this suburb being made a third administrative district of the town, shortly to be known as Mountjoy. At some point during the decades that followed, the abbey's court-house, equipped with a gaol, was relocated to the fork, facing what was by now the main marketplace. Sandlake also saw expansion.
The newcomers continued to include immigrants from Normandy and Flanders, as well as Englishmen from as far afield as Lincoln, London, and Canterbury. Some were allocated by the abbey new plots of land, smaller than those of the initial layout, and so became its tenants and presumably burgesses on a par with the originals. Others, who rented or acquired from burgesses parts of the original messuages, or who lodged with householders, were required to pay an annual fee for the right to remain and share in the privileges of the borough community; they also had to find two guarantors of their good behaviour. They do not seem to have been considered burgesses, but were described as resident non-tenants; they were probably more comparable to the inferiores non burgenses of Lynn, who could buy annual licences to trade, than the foreign burgesses of Ipswich.
In the latter half of the thirteenth century this expansionist policy was replaced by one of intensification within the existing settled area; the monks were perhaps concerned that their house not become entirely encircled by town, to the loss of agricultural land. It was a question of balance. Boundary crosses were set up at three points on the roads into town, to show the new town limits and perhaps act as toll collection points. The rear boundaries of at least the High Street messuages seem to have been defined, probably from the outset, by a line of ditches, in which have been found pottery sherds dating from the Norman period to mid-fourteenth century.
By the close of the thirteenth century, with demand for land exceeding supply and the abbey adequately furnished with retailers and craftsmen, the monks felt able to demand higher rents for the new plots they allocated. A rental of 1367 identifies 207 messuages with residences (plus a few plots not built on), most in occupation notwithstanding the recent bouts of plague; Middleborough had become as congested as most other boroughs of the period and settlement had continued to expand at either end of the town, though at the south-east end it was still relatively low density. While the epidemics doubtless had a drastic effect on population in the crowded town, it would be offset by other factors, such as relocation of residents from coastal settlements, moving inland to escape both French raiders and the rising costs of upgrading local defences. The mortality rate also fuelled an existing trend whereby some of the more prosperous, or simply surviving, burgesses acquired whether through purchase, marriage, or inheritance more than one town property, and/or land elsewhere in the banlieu, that surplus to their living needs being a form of relatively safe financial investment providing regular income from rents and a source of capital should need arise to sell; rent charges themselves (other than those due the abbey) were bought and sold, independently of the properties from which they issued. All this was typical of urban England's inflating real estate market of the pre-plague period, and could be considered a form of commercial enterprise. Residents who served the abbey in some official capacity are prominent among such investors, and the abbey itself also came to engage in the practice.
The abbey too was prospering in the pre-plague period, enabling it to undertake much rebuilding, in part to bolster its defensive capabilities in the context of the war with France. But the number of monks gradually declined during and after the era of epidemics, which must have reduced the amount of business the abbey would put the way of the townspeople, and depopulation in the town itself is evidenced in the late fourteenth century. Searle had the impression of a more profound change in Battle society; it had become
"a community that has lost touch with a traditional concept of itself; whose juries cannot testify as to the customs among them, and whose community leaders rouse no opposition at innovations introduced by the lord. The old solidarity, in which what was done to one was done to all, had ceased to be valued."
Although some contraction of the outlying settled areas (notably Mountjoy) continued in the fifteenth century, Battle had by now become a modest market town of some significance in this region of Sussex. Population and prosperity had re-stabilized, but with a different equilibrium. Some market stalls were being replaced by, or abandoned in favour of, home-based shops. Around the close of the Middle Ages the official market was transferred (or restored?) to the abbey green, much of the marketplace at the fork having been gradually lost to encroachment, notably to the permanent shops; market activities there would cease entirely in the early sixteenth century and the court-house would follow the market back to the abbey outskirts a little later. But by then the Dissolution of the monasteries had removed the mainstay of the local economy.
"still be seen today"
"Reinbert de Beche"
"the other stretch"
"the other part"
"bread and something"
"place of origin:"
"has been estimated"
"double the rent"
"circumstances to which this apply"
"niche in the economy"
"rental of 1367"
|Created: April 2, 2014. Last update: July 8, 2014||© Stephen Alsford, 2014|