Nick's Nuggets
The following histories are Nick Baxter's Potted History of Marlborough
How did our great town begin? How old is Marlborough? How did it all start? These are questions that have never been satisfactorily answered. So let’s explore Marlborough’s origins. The earliest mention of Marlborough is by the medieval chronicler Florence of Worcester who recorded the imprisonment of a deposed English bishop here in May 1070.

Aethelric, bishop of the South Saxons, was deposed and imprisoned as part of a purge King William the Conqueror performed on the English Church.

Two weeks ago I posted the first part of a mini-series on the history of our great town, Marlborough. Imprisoned in Marlborough in May 1070, Aethelric the deposed English bishop, must have wondered what had led to this injustice. Aethelric had begun his ecclesiastic career as a monk at Christ Church, Canterbury. In 1058 he had been translated to the bishopric of Selsey in Sussex by Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury. Stigand had also been deposed and was languishing on hunger strike in Winchester castle. Now incarcerated in the newly-built castle in Marlborough, Aethelric could only ponder his fate.

There was a mint in Marlborough producing silver pennies during the reign of King William I. An earlier mint in nearby Bedwyn had produced silver pennies of King Edward the Confessor.

In the 1950s the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles was established in an attempt to create a catalogue of existing British coin finds. Within it six Bedwyn and three Marlborough coins are included. The Bedwyn coins date from 1046 to 1062. They share the same moneyer, Cild, spelt either “CILD” or “CILDA”: “CILDA” is inscribed only on the earliest coin dated between 1046 and 1048. The Marlborough coins are all from the reign of William I and date from 1077 to 1086: the earliest dated between 1077 and 1080 is inscribed “MAERLBI” and the latest dated between 1083 and 1086 are inscribed “MIERLEB” and “MAERLEB”; Cild spelt “CILD” is inscribed on all three. A fourth Marlborough coin, dated between 1074 and 1077, inscribed with the moneyer “CILD”, is listed within the corpus of early medieval coin finds but is not included in the SCBI.

It is likely that Cilda and Cild are the same person but possible that they were father and son. In 40 years of producing coins from c.1046 to c.1086 it is disappointing that only 10 are known with any degree of certainty. What is certain is that the mint at Bedwyn was moved to Marlborough with its moneyer by the mid-1070s at the latest. There is a significant gap between the latest coin listed in the SCBI for Bedwyn, dated between 1059 and 1062, and the earliest Marlborough coin in the corpus of early medieval coin finds, dated between 1074 and 1077. Reasons could be that Bedwyn mint ceased before it was started again in Marlborough or simply that not enough coin finds have been brought into the public domain to quantify exactly the dates within which Bedwyn and Marlborough mints operated.

What a fantastic summer it has been. Next month sees the 950th anniversary of the battle of Hastings; an event that directly led to the Norman victory and the construction of our very own Marlborough Castle marked today by the Mound, the former motte, behind Marlborough College Chapel.

We know very little about the castle’s early history but a name that comes up frequently in the Norman Domesday Book of 1086 is a shadowy character called Alfred of Marlborough. We know Alfred was in England before 1066 as he had a manor in Herefordshire on the Welsh Marches. By the 1070s he had been given Ewyas castle in Herefordshire as his power base as Marcher Lord. The ground plan, shape, and design of Ewyas is strikingly similar to Marlborough castle: in particular the size of its motte and its inner bailey.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that William the Conqueror regarded the Marlborough area as potentially rebellious. Otherwise, why build a strong castle controlled by a veteran Marcher Lord: indeed why was Alfred given the appellation, “of Marlborough.”

I wish to move on from my post of 8th September where I introduced the Domesday tenant-in-chief Alfred of Marlborough. He was one of King William the Conqueror's henchmen, instrumental in helping to subdue a wild region. I feel it apposite, as we approach the 950th anniversary of the disaster to England known glibly and erroneously as "The Battle of Hastings", to reveal more.

We know from the Domesday Book of 1086 that Alfred of Marlborough had an uncle, Osbern Pentecost, and a daughter, Agnes, who married Thurstan of Wigmore. The Peterborough Manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles reveals that Osbern Pentecost had built the motte and bailey castle at Ewyas in Herefordshire before 1052, one of a very few pre-Conquest castles. A substantial Norman “colony” had settled on the Welsh Marches, two decades before the Conquest of 1066.

Alfred of Marlborough effectively inherited his uncle’s castle at Ewyas after it was “refortified” following the Conquest. As a loyal tenant-in-chief of King William, he was also granted land in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somerset, and Surrey; adding to his Herefordshire caput. It was clear that King William earmarked Alfred to keep the lands around Marlborough under control.

The Godwinsons (King Harold, killed at the Battle of Hastings, and his family) had estates in the region including Ogbourne and Aldbourne. In the wake of the Exeter Uprising in 1068, led by Harold’s mother, a pro-Godwinson revolt within the Marlborough region was very possible. To ensure the people of Marlborough were kept firmly under the Norman yolk, not only was Marlborough Castle built, other Marcher Lords were given lands in this region. They were Ralph of Mortimer, Miles Crispin of Wallingford, Durand of Gloucester, and Gilbert of Breteuil. In my next post I will reveal how these Norman scalliwags helped Alfred of Marlborough keep this tumultuous part of Wiltshire under the Norman thumb.  

The Anglo-Saxon Forest of Savernake was taken by King William: the Norman. Richard Esturmy (from the Old French meaning “wary”) was made warden of the forest. The Anglo-Saxon warden, Aluric the Hunter, was dispossessed.

I can now reveal the names of the chief Norman mafia that kept the screws firmly on the people of Marlborough and the surrounding region during the late 11th century. These Norman scalliwags usually had their powerbase elsewhere, but they certainly exerted an oppressive presence on the occupied English population.

Alfred of Marlborough, whose powerbase, or caput, was Ewyas castle in Herefordshire, held 6 hides and 3 virgates of land in Rockley (a hide was 120 acres and a virgate 30 acres). Because of Alfred’s appellation, there is little doubt that he must have built the first castle at Marlborough, in which Aethelric, the deposed English bishop was imprisoned in 1070.

Ralf of Mortimer, a Marcher Lord like Alfred , had his caput at Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire. He held a 3 hide estate with a mill at Clatford.

Miles Crispin had his caput at Wallingford Castle commanding a vital crossing of the River Thames. William the Conqueror had crossed the river there with the help of the English collaborator, Wigot, before winning the war of 1066. Miles held the important 6 hide manor of Ogbourne which had been part of King Harold’s land. Miles entrusted Manton, formerly held by Wigot, to his henchman, Reginald.

Durand of Gloucester, as Sheriff of Gloucester, had his caput at Gloucester. He held a hide of land at Lockeridge.

Gilbert of Breteuil, who probably built the motte and bailey castle at Bincknoll, held Chisbury (a major defensive earthwork dating from the Iron Age near Great Bedwyn) directly from King William. Gilbert’s powerbase was Chisbury but he also held estates to the north-east of Marlborough (Bincknoll, Clyffe Pypard, and Broad Hinton).  Beckhampton was held for Gilbert by his underling Ansfrid. 

 Humphrey de L’Isle held Winterbourne Bassett and Poulton. All his manors were in Wiltshire, which explains his name meaning “of an island” or insular, looking inwards.  

Finally we should include Richard Sturmy. Although he had few manors of his own right (Cowesfield in Southern Wiltshire and Chilbolton in Hampshire), he was given the wardenship of Savernake Forest by King William. Sturmy, which means “The Wary”, must have had a difficult task. The harsh Forest Law introduced by King William brought deep resentment to the local population.

In my next post I will explore the Anarchy, “When God and His Angels slept”. In 1139 King Stephen’s army attacked Marlborough Castle. Marlborough was to suffer its most wretched period in its history.

Before I take you on the promised journey through Marlborough during the time of “the Anarchy”, “when God and His Angels slept”, it would be useful to show how such a dreadful episode of history came to be. Be patient friends; in my next post I will commence my horrid and tempestuous discourse.

Having waited to see the completion of his Domesday Book, which legally confirmed him as overlord of England, King William sailed to Normandy to put down a rebellion. In July 1087, William besieged the town of Mantes. William’s horse bolted after suffering burns: the pommel ripped the king’s stomach. The wound became infected and William died some weeks later in agony. His son, William Rufus, succeeded him but was unpopular and died after being struck by an arrow in a hunting “accident” in the New Forest. The Conqueror’s youngest son Henry wasted no time, seized the treasury in Winchester, and persuaded the barons to crown him king.

King Henry I was an itinerant monarch, travelling his realm to keep an eye on things, and ensure his overlordship was secure. Marlborough Castle was well and truly established: Henry spent the Easter of 1110 within its walls. The Peterborough Manuscript (MS E) of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles recorded the event as shown in my attached illustration. In November 1120, Henry’s sons William and Richard, drowned when the White Ship sank off Barfleur. The king never smiled again. With no legitimate male heir, what would become of England?

Marlborough was to play a key part in the internecine struggle that became known as “The Anarchy”.
King Henry I, who had spent Easter at Marlborough in 1110, had no legitimate male heir. He persuaded the barons to swear their allegiance to his daughter Matilda. In December 1139 Henry died: his nephew, Stephen, seized the throne whilst Henry’s daughter, Matilda, and illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester, seethed with anger across the channel in Normandy.

King Henry’s master marshal had been a soldier named Gilbert. Gilbert’s son, John, had succeeded him in that role. After Henry died, John the Marshal took control of Marlborough castle for himself. He also held Ludgershall castle. Both Marlborough and Ludgershall were re-fortified and strengthened by John in 1138. King Stephen was so incensed by this ungrateful and traitorous upstart that he gathered an army and lay siege to Marlborough castle in the late summer of 1139. Stephen then heard the news that Matilda and her half-brother Robert of Gloucester had landed with an army on the south coast and were heading for Arundel. He abandoned the siege of Marlborough castle to march to Sussex. John the Marshal had had a very narrow escape: he declared for Matilda.

In my next post I will reveal more of John, cited by one contemporary as “a firebrand of hell and the author of all wickedness”.  

Good friends and readers of my tempestuous and shocking history of the violent and rebellious town of Marlborough (at least it was in the Old Days); I hereby give another instalment. Be patient friends, I begin my account showing how one of Marlborough’s most revolting characters, Marlborough’s Very Own Firebrand of Hell and Root of All Malice, John Fitz-Gilbert the Marshal, came to become such a notorious medieval gangster.

So Three Cheers for John – “Stipes Inferni” (Firebrand of Hell)!

In the spring of 1139 king Stephen held court in Oxford. The justiciar, bishop Roger of Salisbury, was arrested and his Wiltshire castles at Salisbury, Devizes, and Malmesbury confiscated. Stephen resented and feared the power that Roger had acquired under his uncle king Henry I. But arresting a bishop, whilst in the king’s peace, was contrary to Stephen’s coronation charter. The action also deprived England of strong and steady government. This was the moment that England was plunged into civil war.

John the Marshal took advantage of the weakening political situation to act for himself in growing his own power. King Stephen regarded this as treason, gathered an army, and lay siege to John at Marlborough castle. In September Queen Matilda and earl Robert arrived at Arundel castle from Normandy. Incensed by the news, Stephen abandoned the siege at Marlborough and began his march to Sussex.

With the support of Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois bishop of Winchester, and the powerful baron, Waleran of Meulan, both Robert of Gloucester and Queen Matilda escaped Stephen to establish rebel strongholds at Bristol and Gloucester.

In October 1139, Robert Fitz-Hubert, a violent and cruel Flemish mercenary, attacked and took bishop Roger’s castle at Malmesbury. One of Fitz-Hubert’s party-tricks had been to smear his victims with honey and tie them to the ground under a hot sun attracting stinging insects. During the attack the town was burned. Furious at such rank treachery, king Stephen attacked and retook the castle.

Fitz-Hubert fled to Devizes with his armed band and seized the castle there, ostensibly for the rebel earl Robert of Gloucester. Hoping to get control of Marlborough, Fitz-Hubert came to propose a scheme of treachery to John the Marshal; but John turned the tables on him, closed the gates against his followers and threw him into prison, where he practised upon him all the tortures that he, Fitz-Hubert, had applied to others. Robert of Gloucester, nominal lord of both John the Marshal and Robert Fitz-Hubert, hurried to Marlborough, persuaded John to hand over his prisoner for 500 marks and took Fitz-Hubert to Devizes where he was shown to his Flemish followers with the demand that they open their gates. They replied that they had promised Fitz-Hubert never to do so whereupon Robert hanged him on the spot.

I hereby conclude my discourse on Marlborough during the Anarchy and recount how Marlborough Castle became the place where the path to the murder of an archbishop began.
After 14 years of internecine civil war, King Stephen and Queen Matilda did a deal: Stephen could remain on the throne for the remainder of his life in return for agreeing that Matilda’s son Henry would become king after his death. Matilda gave up her right to the throne in favour of her son: everyone was happy. A year later, in 1154, Stephen died: Henry succeeded to the throne.
King Henry II, son of Geoffrey of Anjou, was England’s first Angevin king. John the Marshal, castellan of Marlborough Castle, was rewarded by Henry for his allegiance to his mother with the manors of Marlborough, Wexcombe, and Cherhill.
John’s success, however, was dampened considerably when Henry took back possession of Marlborough Castle.
King Henry II was a man used to having his own way. He brought the barons to heel and he controlled the Church; or at least he thought he did. To ensure compliance from the Church, he used his power to have elected as the new archbishop of Canterbury, his old friend Thomas Becket.
But Thomas Becket turned out to be a staunch defender of the Church and resisted Henry’s attempts to control it. An almighty row developed, which led to Thomas Becket fleeing the country in fear of his life.
From Marlborough Castle in December 1164 Henry II issued a writ to his bishops,

“You know with what malice Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, has acted towards me and my kingdom, and how basely he has fled. I therefore command you that his clerks, who were with him after his flight, and the other clerks, who have disparaged my honour and the honour of the realm, shall not receive any of the revenues which they have within your bishopric except by my order.”
The writ, witnessed by Richard of Luce “at Marlborough”, was to lead to the murder of an archbishop and the subsequent canonisation of a holy man.

Marlborough was at the centre of one of the most significant events in Medieval History.

In my next post I will reveal how Marlborough was to become a favoured location for, arguably, the most infamous and notorious of all English kings.

Good friends and readers of my tempestuous and shocking history of the violent and rebellious town of Marlborough (at least it was in the Old Days); I hereby give another instalment. Be patient friends, I begin my account showing how one of Marlborough’s most revolting characters, Marlborough’s Very Own Firebrand of Hell and Root of All Malice, John Fitz-Gilbert the Marshal, came to become such a notorious medieval gangster.

So Three Cheers for John – “Stipes Inferni” (Firebrand of Hell)!

In the spring of 1139 king Stephen held court in Oxford. The justiciar, bishop Roger of Salisbury, was arrested and his Wiltshire castles at Salisbury, Devizes, and Malmesbury confiscated. Stephen resented and feared the power that Roger had acquired under his uncle king Henry I. But arresting a bishop, whilst in the king’s peace, was contrary to Stephen’s coronation charter. The action also deprived England of strong and steady government. This was the moment that England was plunged into civil war.

John the Marshal took advantage of the weakening political situation to act for himself in growing his own power. King Stephen regarded this as treason, gathered an army, and lay siege to John at Marlborough castle. In September Queen Matilda and earl Robert arrived at Arundel castle from Normandy. Incensed by the news, Stephen abandoned the siege at Marlborough and began his march to Sussex.

With the support of Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois bishop of Winchester, and the powerful baron, Waleran of Meulan, both Robert of Gloucester and Queen Matilda escaped Stephen to establish rebel strongholds at Bristol and Gloucester.

In October 1139, Robert Fitz-Hubert, a violent and cruel Flemish mercenary, attacked and took bishop Roger’s castle at Malmesbury. One of Fitz-Hubert’s party-tricks had been to smear his victims with honey and tie them to the ground under a hot sun attracting stinging insects. During the attack the town was burned. Furious at such rank treachery, king Stephen attacked and retook the castle.

Fitz-Hubert fled to Devizes with his armed band and seized the castle there, ostensibly for the rebel earl Robert of Gloucester. Hoping to get control of Marlborough, Fitz-Hubert came to propose a scheme of treachery to John the Marshal; but John turned the tables on him, closed the gates against his followers and threw him into prison, where he practised upon him all the tortures that he, Fitz-Hubert, had applied to others. Robert of Gloucester, nominal lord of both John the Marshal and Robert Fitz-Hubert, hurried to Marlborough, persuaded John to hand over his prisoner for 500 marks and took Fitz-Hubert to Devizes where he was shown to his Flemish followers with the demand that they open their gates. They replied that they had promised Fitz-Hubert never to do so whereupon Robert hanged him on the spot.

Good Morrow Dear Readers. Tis time, methinks, to continue the terrible history of our great town of Marlborough under the grip of megalomaniacal Angevin kings.

King Henry II fulminated at the ungrateful and treacherous archbishop, Thomas Becket, whilst spending Christmas at Marlborough castle in December 1164. Six years later Becket was brutally murdered by four knights in Canterbury cathedral. The mortal sword thrust, cut off the top of Becket’s head open spilling his brains onto the hallowed floor.

Henry had “solved” his problem with Becket but he never succeeded in solving his difficulties with his rebellious sons. As he lay dying at Chinon castle in July 1189 he learnt that even his favourite son John, had been plotting against him. The news finished him off.

Richard the Lionheart, John’s older brother, succeeded to the throne. John was intensely jealous and spiteful of Richard. Despite fraternal animosity, Richard gave John the castles of Marlborough, Ludgershall, and Nottingham in addition to the county of Gloucester.

On 29th August 1189 John married Isabella of Gloucester in the chapel of Marlborough Castle. Isabella’s grandfather, Robert of Gloucester, was the illegitimate son of King Henry I, John’s great-grandfather. 

With Prince John happily married, it was hoped and expected the realm would at last be at peace.

It was to be an expectation shattered.

In my next post I will recount the dreadful siege and capture of Marlborough castle by Hubert Walter’s army in February 1194: Marlborough was to be plunged once more into the abyss of barbarism.