The Norman yoke

Local evidence of the upheaval resulting from the Norman Conquest is tricky to pin down. Just as the Domesday Book alerted us to the existence of Merwynn, the Anglo-Saxon matriarch and Lady of the Manor of Burgh, so it shows us stark evidence of the regime change when the Normans arrived.

Burgh was one of many settlements that was gifted by William of Normandy to one of his knights. In this case a Roger Bigot, who was later made Earl of Norfolk. He would probably never have visited the place, but under the feudal system would have drawn taxes and fees from his Tenant in Chief.

It is his Tenant who triggers the imagination. He was a man called Drogo de la Beuvrière and from what little we know of him he was probably the worst kind of Norman. It seems that he originated in Beauvry in Flanders, not far from Bethune. It seems likely that he accompanied William at Hastings and was rewarded in some small way for his services.

It is known that he was a builder of castles, or what were probably the simple wooden motte and bailey sort used to suppress the local population. He was awarded land in Norfolk and in the Holderness area of Lincolnshire. These are all practical signs of the so called Norman Yoke – consolidation and oppression after invasion.

As well as Burgh, in Norfolk he was lord of Saxlingham, Bessingham, North Barningham, Hindringham, Erpingham, and Gissing.

His reputation was such that contemporary chronicles record his downfall – apparently he murdered his wife, by poison or by blade, and became a fugitive. There are records of him trying to borrow money from the King, perhaps to secure his escape. Then he disappears from the record, perhaps returning to Flanders or perhaps killed.

In any event, his extensive estates in Holderness were granted to another, this time Odo, Count of Champagne. Meanwhile, Burgh reverted to the Crown and to the Earl of Norfolk and a trail of future transfers to supporters was set.

Mark Little 2017

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