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Sheffield under Norman Lords


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When William the Conqueror crossed the Channel from Normandy and annexed England, he brought in his train as helpers a large number of needy knights, to whom he gave freely the lands of our English forefathers who had resisted him. Nearly all these Norman adventurers settled on their English estates and ceased to regard Normandy as their home, for there they had been poor, while in England they were rich. In several ways they began quickly to make changes. One change was that they built themselves strong castles as a defence, because the English around them long remained discontented. Another change was that they built churches for the people's use, and abbeys for the monks. Indeed, according to the ideas of those days the Normans were religious as well as warlike. The Conqueror himself and his wife, Queen Matilda, were notable church builders, and to this day visitors to Caen in Normandy admire the church he built for men, and the one she built for women.

As we might expect, under Norman rule castles and churches soon began to rise in the neighbourhood of Sheffield.

The first Norman lord of the district of whom we get a glimpse - and it is only a glimpse - was named Roger de Busli. Nobody knows certainly who he was, but probably he was connected in some way with Queen Matilda. To him William gave enormous estates, as we learn from Domesday Book. He owned much of the land around Sheffield - as, for example, Tinsley, Ecclesfield, Wadsley, Norton, and Dore - and he held Hallam, Attercliffe, and Sheffield manors as tenant in chief from the Countess Judith, widow of Waltheof. De Busli built his castle at Tickhill, which then and later was an important place, but now is only a village.

The lordship of de Bush, however, was but brief. About twenty years after the Conquest, and immediately after the completion of the Domesday Survey, he seems to have parted with many of his estates to a very energetic Norman baron from Huntingdonshire, named William de Lovetot. At first de Lovetot was tenant to de Busli, but later became owner of many manors, and among those which he obtained were the lands around Sheffield that had belonged to the Countess Judith. This William de Lovetot is the real founder of Sheffield, for he selected it as the site for his home, built his castle here, and made it the centre for the immediate district.

If we stand on Lady's Bridge - the name of which, of course, comes to us from Roman Catholic times, when it was the bridge of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary - we are in the very midst of the works of William de Lovetot. He it was who built here a bridge over the Don. If we look up Wain Gate, we are looking past where the castle stood, on a mound to the left in the angle between the River Don and the River Sheaf at their junction. At a later period a moat joining the Don and the Sheaf surrounded the castle. On the Don to the right, beyond the weir, de Lovetot built a mill. Behind us, beyond the Wicker, and outside the town, he built a hospital dedicated to St. Leonard for the relief of the sick poor, the memory of which still lives faintly in the name Spital Hill; and it is probable also that he established a market. Further, to him is due the founding of the church - the Parish Church - which then would be outside the village that nestled around the castle or climbed the hill above it. Here we have the true beginning of Sheffield.

It was William de Lovetot who founded the monastery of Worksop, with which the first church in Sheffield was connected; and, in these early years of the Norman period, castles were being built and abbeys were being founded throughout the neighbourhood. Thus William Peverel built his castle at Castleton, and also, probably, one at Bolsover. There were castles at Chesterfield, Doncaster, and Worksop, and the ancient Saxon stronghold at Conisboroughwas strengthened. Roche Abbey was endowed by de Busli; and Beauchief Abbey was founded by Robert Fitz Ranulph, a landowner of Norton, and dedicated to Thomas a Becket. Ecclesfield had its priory, which was enriched by one of the de Lovetots. In fact, the land was besprinkled with castles and religious foundations.

Three generations only of the de Lovetots were lords of Hallamshire, for between ninety and a hundred years, and then the estates passed into other hands in a romantic way, that tells us very curiously of the customs of those far-off days. The de Love-tots in the direct line of succession had no son by the year 1181, and their vast estates passed to an only daughter, Maud, who was but seven years old when her father died. This small lassie, being a great heiress, became the ward of the King, Henry II, who, according to the law of the times, had the right to choose her husband. As she was but a child, Henry put off the selection of the husband who should with her jointly inherit her great possessions. When Henry's son Richard the Lion-hearted became king, Maud was grown up, and Richard, as her guardian, bestowed her hand on Gerard de Furnival, a son of a Norman knight, also named Gerard de Furnival, who had been one of the King's companions in arms in the Crusades. Thus Sheffield and the district around came into the possession of the de Furnivals, whose name is still preserved in our Furnival Street, and the Barons Furnival held the lordship for 180 years.

When lands reverted to the King for him to make a new assignment of them, as in the marriage of Maud de Lovetot with Gerard de Furnival, the new lord had to pay a fee, or fine, to the King; and there is a romantic story of how Gerard de Furnival paid his fee. The amount was 400 silver marks. Richard of the Lion Heart had now died and his brother John was the king to whom the fine was due. Young de Furnival accompanied John to France, where Prince Arthur of Brittany, John's nephew, was being supported as ruler of a part of his uncle's territory. At Mirabeau the French were defeated, and Prince Arthur was captured and, later, was either killed in captivity or perished while trying to escape. It was Arthur, as told by Shakespeare in a scene in the play King John, who piteously prevailed on his jailor Hubert not to put out his eyes, as John had commanded. Well, at the battle of Mirabeau, de Furnival captured a French knight, and handed him over to the King in payment of his homage-fee - the ransom for the knight probably more than paying the 400 marks of silver.

In those days a knight who was overthrown in a tournament forfeited his horse and armour to the victor, and one who was captured by an enemy in battle had to be ransomed by his friends at a price agreed upon, otherwise he was left in prison. In Ivanhoe we read that the band of outlaws under Robin Hood - of whom we shall hear presently - required 600 silver marks as the ransom of a wealthy prior, and 500 for a rich Jew. So we can understand that Gerard de Furnival's fine of 400 silver marks would be fully discharged by a knight's ransom.

All the de Lovetot family, however, did not agree to the estates passing into the hands of the de Furnivals through the marriage of the Lady Maud. Indeed, one of her cousins claimed the estates. This was a kind of dispute that suited King John very well, as he was glad of an excuse for extorting money from anybody. So he settled the difference in favour of de Furnival for a further payment of 1,000 and fifteen riding-horses.

Gerard de Furnival did not end his days in peace on the estate he had gained by marriage, by war, and by payments to a greedy king. Leaving Maud at home with three sons and three daughters, he went crusading to Palestine, and died at Jerusalem. Maud lived at least thirty years longer, and saw two of her sons go, like their father, to the wars against the Saracens, and there the eldest, Thomas by name, was killed in battle. His brother brought back the body for burial in Worksop Priory, where, later, Maud and her other sons rested.

Thomas was the family name of the dc Furnivals. The second Thomas, son of the Thomas killed in Palestine, lived in the reign of Henry III, when Simon de Montfort, the brave, bold, and patriotic Earl of Leicester, made a stand with other barons against the tyranny of the King. Thomas the second sided with the King, and, because of this the barons, on the march from North Lincolnshire into Derbyshire, halted at Sheffield and destroyed both the castle and the town. This is the first of two occasions on which we know that war has raged in the very heart of Sheffield. The triumph of the barons was but short. Passing on to Chesterfield, they were met by the King's supporters and completely overthrown. The date of the battle of Chesterfield was May 15, 1266. Four years later, de Furnival asked from the King, and received, permission to rebuild Sheffield Castle of stone, and the castle which he then reared remained until the Civil War in the reign of Charles I.

The third Thomas de Furnival, son of the castle-builder, was the greatest man of his race. For between 50 and 60 years he held the lordship of Hallamshire, and remembrance of him will never fade. In 1294 he was summoned by Edward I, as Baron de Furnival, to attend Parliament, and he served his country as a lord in Parliament for 38 years. Three years after his first summons to Parliament he granted to the free tenants of Sheffield a charter of the utmost importance, for to a considerable extent it determined the form of the government of the city for more than 500 years. An account of the charter will be found later in the chapters on the story of the city's government.

This great Lord de Furnival, the third Thomas, died in 1332, and his son, the fourth Thomas, died only seven years later in Sheffield Castle, and was buried at Beauchief Abbey. His son, the fifth and last Thomas, fought under Edward III at the battle of Cressy. When he died childless, his brother William, whose wife, by the way, was named Thomasine, succeeded him; but they had only one child, a daughter, Joan. As the lordship of Hallamshire came into the Furnival family by marriage of a Lady Maud, so it went out of the family by marriage of a Lady Maud. Joan de Furnival married, at the age of 16, Sir Thomas de Nevil, a brave north-country soldier, and their only daughter and. heiress, Maud de Ncvil, Lady Furnival, married, at the age of 17, John Talbot, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, and through him the lordship passed into the Shrewsbury family, in which it remained for 200 years, before passing, again by marriage, to the Howard family, the present holders. Like the de Lovetots, the de Furnivals showed a considerable amount of public spirit, as it was then understood. Not only did they permit an unusual measure of self-government in the town, but throughout Hallamshire they granted popular privileges such as the pasturing, at a small rental, of cattle in the forests of Fulwood and Rivelin, and permission to gather wood, green or dry. The right of pasturage was also extended to the religious houses. Thus, the monks of Beauchief Abbey could turn thirty cows into the Fulwood Forest, and to-day the name Fulwood Booth preserves remembrance of the winter shelter formed for the protection of such cattle. Grazing privileges extended to a great distance. Worksop Priory, for example, had pasturage in Rivelin forest, and Welbeck Abbey had similar privileges in the most remote side valleys of the upper Derwent. And so public obligations were recognised in days that we sometimes regard as being associated only with harshness and wrong.


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Pictures for Sheffield under Norman Lords

St. Peter's Church
St. Peter's Church >>>>
Roche Abbey
Roche Abbey >>>>
BEAUCHIEF ABBEY
BEAUCHIEF ABBEY >>>>
JOHN TALBOT
JOHN TALBOT >>>>

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