Barons v. the Monarch
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The Saxons

During the 'Dark Ages' or Saxon period (410-1066) which followed the departure of the Roman legions from the British Isles, the area which is now England was divided into a number of separate kingdoms (East Anglia, Kent, Mercia, Northumberland, Wessex) along the lines of the Saxon tribes which conquered a particular area. All these kingdoms vied for power and, int the tenth century, Wessex would emerge supreme, the kings of Wessex becomming the kings of England. The royal succession was not entirely hereditary as the king was elected by the 'Witangamot' or 'Witan', the council composed of the great nobles (variously written as 'theigns', 'thegns' or 'thanes') of the realm.

The Viking raids to which the British Isles and much of maritime Europe were subjected during the produced a great measure of cohesion between the monarch and his powerfull nobles in the face of the common threat which threatened to overwhelm all. With the emergence of a more cohesive England under a single crown, the barons became more rebellious until the establishment of the Tudor dynasty by King Henry VII (1485-1509) when the running of the country was entrusted to professional administrators rather than hereditary barons.

Following the death of King Edred (946-955), the nobles elected his nephew Edwy king (955-959) but, in 957, the barons of Mercia and Northumberland rebelled against him with the support of Archbishop Odo and the exiled Dunstan in favour of his younger brother Edgar. Edwy was defeated at Gloucester and England was partitioned along the river Thames with Edwy ruling the south and Edgar the north until Edwy's death in 959 when Edgar became king of all England.

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William the Conqueror

By the time of the battle of Senlac by which William, Duke of Normandy, won the crown of England he had a great deal of experience in dealing with rebellious barons in Normandy.

The illigitimate son of Duke Robert I of Normandy by the daughter of a tanner, born about 1028, contrary to tradition, he was recognised as his father's successor on the latter's death in 1035, with his great uncle ruling the Duchy during his minority.

From 1047 onwards, William successfully dealt with rebellions within the duchy by his kinsmen, by neighbouring nobles and two attempted invasions by his feudal lord, King Henry I of France in 1054 and 1057.

It was another five years after the death of Harold II at the battle of Senlac in 1066 before the last Saxon rebellion was put down. As the country was subjugated, William either held the lands of opponents for himself, or gave them to his followers. This gradual distributuon of land resulted in the estates of the magnates being widely dispersed and giving none but the holders of the palatine earldoms on the borders of Wales and Scotland a single base from which to challenge the king's authority.

To strengthen royal justice in the fragmented legal system, complicated by the retention of many Saxon laws within the new Norman/Roman framework, William relied on his sheriffs, influential Norman nobles who succeeded the Saxon shire reeves and supervised the administration of the king's law in the shire moots. judges from the king's court were also sent into the provinces to deal with important trials.

The revolt of the Norman barons against William I is called 'The Bridal of Norwich' because it was planned at the wedding of Ralph de Gauder to the sister of Robert FitzOsbern.

Three of the great barons of England, Ralph de Gauder, Earl of Norfolk, Roger FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford and the Saxon Waltheof sought to divide England into three great feudal duchies (Wessex, Northumbria and Mercia) because of their objections to the illegitimate birth of the monarch, William's checks on the power of the feudal barons and the encroachment of sheriffs in the service of the Crown in the baronial courts. The rebels sought to secure help from Denmark.

The rebellion was put down in William I's absence by Wulfstan, the Saxon Bishop of Worcester, the Justiciars and a mixed English and Norman army.

Waltheof took only a small part in the conspiracy and even forewarned Lanfranc. Despite this, he was the only conspirator to be executed by the king who took the oportunity to rid the kingdom of its last great Saxon noble.

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The Normans


The division by the Conqueror of his Norman and English possessions between his sons Robert and William alarmed the barons with possessions on both sides of the Channel sorely. A conspiracy was formed by Odo of Bayeux which most of them joined. Its aim was to rebel against Rufus in favour making the weak if greedy Robert king of England under whome they were certain to gain more power.

William Rufus easily suppressed the rebellion of 1088 with the help of the bishops, the Church and the English under the leadership of Wulfstan, bishop of Worcester. The English fyrd captured Odo at Rochester and he was exiled from the kingdom.

William made peace with Robert by the treaty of Caen in 1091 by which it was agreed that the survivor should rule both England and Normandy. Five years later, Robert mortgaged Normandy to William for £6,000 to finance him on the First Crusade.

Henry I


The civil war between Stephen and Matilda, known as the Anarchy, which dominated almost all of Stephen's reign resulted in the disintegration of the order which had been imposed by his uncle Henry I.

The barons switched their allegiences frequently to secure personal advantage while some made no pretence of allegiance to either side, rather raiding the country at will.

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Henry II

Almost twenty years of Civil War had wrecked all but the simplest of organisation in the charismatic Henry's new kingdom and he immediately set about restoring order; within two years he had subdued the more turbulent of his barons and over-awed the remainder. Pulling down the unauthorised castles which the magnates had erected in the turbulent and lawless reign of Stephen, he re-instated the laws of his grandfather Henry I.

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The Tudors

Many have claimed the year 1485, when Henry, Earl of Richmond won the Battle of Bosworth Field and the Wars of the Roses to found the Tudor dynasty as King Henry VII, as the end of the 'feudalism' and the 'Middle Ages' in England.

While the Tudors enforced the King's law in the land by freeing the Privy Council and law courts from the grip of the barons and placing them under the control of the Crown and forbade the personal retainers which, for example, allowed the Duke of Norfolk to besiege Caister Castle in 1469 in a private quarrel over right of possession, the process was one of gradual change. In the north, subject to the more-or-less regular raids of the Scots, the marcher barons enjoyed considerable autonomy and many aspects of the feudalism remained until the unification of the crowns of England and Scotland by James I in 1603.

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1075The Bridal of Norwich; revolt by the Norman barons against William I
1078Revolt by Robert Curthose
1079Robert Curthose submits to his father William I after unhorsing him at the seige of Gerberoi
1082Arrest of Bishop Odo of Bayeux in his capacity as Earl of Kent by William I
1087.Sep.09Death of William I (the Conqueror), one of his sons became king as William II (Rufus) [old William II page] while another became Duke of Normandy as Robert II
Willaim and Robert warred over Normandy until the later took up the cross in 1096
Political Prisoners such as Roger Fitz-Osbern were released on the king's death
1088Unsuccessful rebellion of the barons led by Odo of Bayeux to put Robert of Normandy on the English throne
1212.AugDiscontent of the barons results in an unsuccessful plot to murder or desert King John during a campaign planned against the Welsh
1215.Jun.19The Magna Carta sealed at Runnymede by King John to stave off civil war with the barons
1312.Jun.19Beheading of the favourite of Edward II, Piers gaveston, Earl of Cornwall (c.1284-) by the barons
1376Parliament rebelled against the cost of war against France and refused to grant Edward III the money to continue fighting
1400Henry IV quells a rebellion by the barons
1469Caister Castle beseiged by 3,000 men of the Duke of Norfolk in a private quarrel over right of possession

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