Anglo-Saxon Burgh

Introducing Merwynn

The Domesday Book, which is essentially a government tax assessment, provides the best snapshot of life in Burgh more than 900 years ago. Notably the Book tells us that the Lord of the Manor of Burgh before the conquest was a woman.

This is not unique in the kingdom, in fact a total of 129 female names appear in the document, some more than once. But compared to the 2,000+ male names which arise, a woman in the position of leadership in a village is relatively unusual.

Her name was Merwynn – presumably the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of “Marion” – and she held sway over the major part of the Manor of Burgh. The Manor extended to roughly 600 acres of arable land (or ploughland as it is described) as well as 21 households, seven acres of meadow land, and enough woodland to support 60 pigs. This sounds very much like a thriving agricultural village.

Anglo-Saxon settlements tended to be made up of extended families – the rule of law being settled via local courts (such as Marsham or Cawston) or, in extremis, via the concept of “blood feud” whereby a dispute with one family member could escalate to become a wider issue between whole families.

So Merwynn, the Lady of the Manor would have to be made of stern stuff. Although, even if this was the case (and it probably was) it would not have prepared her for the wholesale land grab that would about to arise under the Norman Conquest.

Mark Little 2017

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