Lincolnshire Past and Present, 12 (1993), 9-10.

Lady Godiva, the book, and Washingborough

In the early twelfth century Geoffrey Gaimar, the author of an Anglo-Norman historical poem entitled Lestorie des Engles, noted that one of his sources was 'the English book of/from Washingborough'.1 It is surprising to learn that such a work, presumably a history, was to be found in an apparently secular context. The manor of Washingborough, some two and a half miles to the south-east of the City of Lincoln, was an important demesne estate of the Count of Brittany, and, although the Anglo-Norman aristocracy to which be belonged was becoming increasingly literate at this time, French and Latin were the languages of that society.2 English, where it was written and read at all, was more associated with religious eommunities, and as far as is known there was none at Washingborough, the nearest being a probably moribund minster at Branston;

But such it was, and the fact raises the question of the identity of the book. Gaimar merely states that it contained an account of the emperors of Rome and the deeds of Eng!ish kings, a description which could fit a wide variety of sources. However, C.P.C: Johnson has recently suggested that the work was a version of what we now know as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, probably that which was is now associated with the abbey of Peterborough.3 An early connection between the abbey and Washingborough, can be made. As far as I am aware Peterborough had no interests in the village in the later Middle Ages, but before the Conquest a holder of the estate was a considerable, if ultimately frustrated, patron of the house. Writing in the twelfth century; Hugh Candidus, a monk of Peterborough, recorded that Lady Godiva gave to St. Peter [of Peterborough] Hough on the Hill, Leadenham, Washingborough, and Long Bennington in Lincolnshire, Conisborough, in Yorkshire, and land and a small house in Barnwell in Northamptonshire.4 However, in itself the reference is merely a curiosity and does not materially help with the identification of the book of Washingborough, for, although it is clear that Gaimar used a version of the Chronicle, it appears to have differed from the Peterborough recension.5

Nevertheless, the wider implications of Hugh Candidus' account do place the work in a more comprehensible context. The Lady Godiva to whom Hugh Candidus refers was not the famous bare-backed rider of that name; Coventry retains exclusive rights to her charms. Rather she appears to have been the third wife of Siward, Earl of Northumbria 1033-1055, for Conisborough was bequeathed to Elfhelm his predecessor by Wulfric Spot in 1004.6 Godiva's title to the estates is not immediately obvious. She is known to have held lands in her own right. Peterborough sources again record that she granted them an estate in Ryhall and Belmesthorpe in Rutland between 1042 and 1055, and since this already belonged to the abbey, it would seem that she herself had held it by lease and was free to dispose of it within her lifetime.7 In the event the manor was retained or seized by Siward after her death, and it descended to his son Waitheof by his second marriage from whom it had passed to his wife, Countess Judith, by 1086.8

To all appearances Godiva also had an unequivocal right to alienate Washingborough but it was similarly purloined; Siward, presumably the earl, is recorded as holding part of it before the Conquest, and Judith another part after.9 But like Conisborough, the village was almost certainly acquired from her husband, most likely as her morning gift, and she had never had full rights to it. Domesday Book shows that in 1066 Hough, Leadenham, and Long Bennington were held by Ralf the Staller, but the record of renders for horse fodder indicates that they had formerly been associated with the earl's administration of the area.10 Unfortunately, Washingborough itself does not appear in the survey.11 Nevertheless, it is clear from the account of its inland and sokeland in Coleby that it too had been held by Ralf in 1066, and it therefore seems likely that it was of similar status. The village was probably attached to the office of earl and only came to Siward, and through him to Godiva, when Lincolnshire was annexed to the earldom of Northumbria in the 1050s.12

Washingborough's history after the Conquest supports this contention. Ralf's Lincolnshire lands were granted to Count Alan of Brittany. Uniquely, however, Washingborough was retained by the crown: it only came into the honour of Brittany some time between 1093 and 1136.13 Royal and comital estates in the vicinity of towns and boroughs were frequently kept in the hands of the King in the aftermath of the Conquest, for, although they were legally, if not always physically, distinct from the urban communities with which they were associated, they played a key role in [10] their administration. In Nottingham, for example, the earl had held a manor near Standard Hill from which he could dominate the English Borough to the east and the King maintained a strict supervision of it until the early twelfth century.14 The delay in releasing Washingborough to the honour of Brittany may well reflect such a function in relation to Lincoln.15 King William did not reappoint an earl in Lincolnshire, and this the most important of his estates he kept in his own hands to ensure his control of the city.

It is clear, then, that Washingborough was not just any manor. Before the Conquest it had been held by the highest in the land and was probably one of the most important administrative centres in the county, whilst after the Conquest it remained a valuable demesne estate. If literacy in English is to be associated with a lay context in the eleventh or early twelfth century, it is appropriate that it should be a manor like Washingborough.

1. L 'Estoire des Engles by Geffrei Gaimar, ed. A. Bell (Oxford 1960), line 6463. 1 am grateful to Professor Ian Short for reading and commenting on this article. All errors remain my own responsibility.

2. M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (London, 1979), pp. 186-91.

3. C.P.C. Johnson, 'Washingborough and the Honour of Richmond', Lincolnshire Past & Present, 4 (1991), pp. 2-3.

4. The Chronicle of Hugh Candidus, a Monk of Peterborough, ed. W.T. Mellows (Oxford, 1949), p. 70; The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus, trans. C. Mellows & W.T. Mellors (Peterborough. 1966), p. 36. The place-names Hah, Langlel Denham, and Binitun of the text are wrongly identified. Peterborough's charter allegedly issued by Wulfhere is in fact a twelfth-century forgery (C.R. Hart. The Early Charters of Eastern England (Leicester, 1966), p. 97), and the association of Ralf the Staller with the places has led to the present identifications.

5. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, eds. D. Whitelock, D.C. Douglas, & S.I. Tucker (London, 1961), pp. xix-xx.

6. C.R. Hart, The Early Charters of Northern England and the North Midlands (Leicester, 1975), p. 126. The marriage took place in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-66), presumably after Siward's second marriage to Elfflead c.1041. Godiva probably died when Leofric was Abbot of Peterborough (1052-66), or shortly before.

7. Hart, Early Charters of Eastern England, p. 107.

8. Domesday Book: Northamptonshire, eds. F. and C. Thorn (Chichester, 1979), 56,1. Peterborough tradition maintained that Siward had been granted the estate for life by Abbot Leofric. However, the abbey may have over-emphasised the element of agreement, better to substantiate its claims to Ryhall in the twelfth century.

9. The Lincolnshire Domesday and the Lindsey Survey, eds. C.W. Foster & T. Longley (Lincoln, 1924), 1/7; 56/19.

l0. Lincolnshire Domesday, 12/43, 48-49.

11. Unlike many settlements, it was not silently included in the account of another estate, but inadvertently omitted; a space had been left for its enrolment, but it was filled by an account of Grantham, and Washingborough seems to have been forgotten (DB i, 337d).

12. D.R. Roffe, 'Nottinghamshire and the North: a Domesday Study', unpublished PhD thesis (Leicester, 1987), pp. 213-60.

13. Early Yorkshire Charters, ed. W. Farrer, C.T. Clay (Edinburgh and Wakefield, 1914-62), IV, no. 11A.

14. D.R. Roffe, 'An Introduction to the Nottinghamshire Domesday', in The Nottinghamshire Domesday, eds. A. Williams & R.W.H. Erskine (London, 1990), pp. 24-27.

15. D.R. Roffe, 'An Introduction to the Lincolnshire Domesday', in The Lincolnshire Domesday, eds. A. Williams & G.H. Martin (London, 1992), p. 25.

© David Roffe, July 1993.