The Danish Invasion to the Norman Conquest



The year 865 heralded disaster for Anglo-Saxon England. It was the year of full scale invasion by the Great Army of the Danes. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle said that the Danes took winter quarters in East Anglia. "And the same year a great raiding army came to the land of the English and took winter quarters in East Anglia and were provided with horses there, and they made peace with them".


According to Aethelweard writing 100 years later, their leader was Igwar or Ivar, one of the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar had two sons involved in these raids. One was called Ubba, and the other was known as Ivar the Boneless. The chronicle implies that King Edmund paid them off in money and supplies to keep the peace in East Anglia.

Modern historians refer to the 200 year period after 865 as The Late Anglo-Saxon time.


The viking force marched north from East Anglia, took York and thus conquered Northumbria. The brilliant cultural life of the north, the schools, libraries, churches and minsters were all destroyed. "An immense slaughter was made of the Northumbrians there".


Vikings moved on Nottingham and the Mercians sued for surrender.


If King Edmund had indeed paid off the Danes to avoid war in 865, we do not know why the same thing was not attempted in 869. Perhaps the Danes now felt strong enough to take him on, or perhaps he had now resolved to resist them. "The Danish host rode across Mercia into East Anglia and took winter quarters in Thetford and in the same year King Edmund fought against them and the Danes had the victory. And they slew the king and overran the entire kingdom".


That description came from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, version A, written between 877 and 899, and is the first record of the death of King Edmund, later to be called St Edmund, King and Martyr. A note to Version F adds that the Danish head men who slew the King were Ingware (Ivar) and Ubba.


Version B, copied at Peterborough in 1103 also added that they destroyed all the monasteries to which they came, one of which was Peterborough itself. This would be very significant because it implies a wholesale destruction of written records and literature in East Anglia.


Later stories were to tell how Edmund was captured in battle, and offered his life to share his kingdom and renounce his Christian faith. This he refused to do and was shot with arrows and his head was cut off and thrown away.


The death of King Edmund is attributed to November 20th, and the History of the Legend of St Edmund is described fully elsewhere on this website.


According to Abbo of Fleury, writing in 985, the death of St Edmund occurred at Haegelisdun Wood. According to Herman of Bury, writing in 1095, the saint was then buried nearby at Sutton. Aeldorman Aethelweard, writing at the end of the 10th century said "and his body lies entombed in the place which is called Beadoriceswyrthe".


Some modern writers now support the ideas of Dr Stanley West that the location of Edmund's death was at Bradfield St George, rather than at Hoxne, which had been the claim of the medieval bishops after 1101. Dr West has noted that there still survives an old field name Hellesden, close to a Sutton Hall six miles south of Bury St Edmunds. Two miles north are Kingshall Farm, Kingshall Street and Kingshall Green. It seems likely that St Edmund's death would not have been far from his eventual resting place.


Prior to this time there had been a single kingdom of East Anglia, consisting chiefly of today's Norfolk and Suffolk. Its land frontiers were defence works on the Icknield Way facing southwest and joining up two natural boundaries. The Devil's Dyke ran 7 miles from Reach on the edge of the marshy Fens to the dense forests still remaining at Stetchworth in the east.

The town of Thetford seems to have been built upon these beginnings as a Danish winter stronghold. For the next fifty years, East Anglia was under viking control.

At this time there were a few settlements scattered around Haverhill and we know nothing about their fate under the Vikings. However, being on the southern frontier of East Anglia would not have made for a settled or secure life.


The Danes now moved against King Aethelred of Wessex and Alfred his brother. Battles took place at Englefield, ten miles west of Reading, at Reading itself and at Ashdown, Basing and Merton. The slaughter was great on both sides, enough to make Aethelwerd comment "that neither before nor after has such a slaughter been heard of since the race of Saxons won Britain in war".


King Aethelred died after Easter and was succeeded by his brother, Alfred.

Ealdorman Aethelweard wrote his Chronicle towards the end of the 10th century.

In 871 King Alfred the Great became King of Wessex and the English until 899. He was a man of letters, so learning and history were important to him, but he was also a very practical man and a warrior. His chief pre-occupation was to ward off the Danish invasions and at first, things were at a very low ebb, and a very large payment of Danegeld was made to keep them out of Wessex.

After 871, part of the Viking army settled at York and took to farming. Godrum led another part to Cambridge and in 876 they launched another assault on Wessex. They lost 5,000 men at sea, and were forced to retreat.

On the feast of Twelfthnight 878 the Vikings surprised Alfred's army at Chippenham. Much of Wessex was taken by the Danish and their territory was expanded to its greatest ever extent. Alfred even took refuge at Athelney in Somerset, later founding a monastery there in gratitude.


By May, Alfred rallied the army and won a decisive battle over king Guthrum, or Godram, at Edington near the Bristol Channel. The Peace of Wedmore was made following Alfred's victory at Edington, 15 miles from Chippenham. Under the Treaty the borders of Danish rule were rolled back and established east of Watling Street, along a line from London to Chester. Essex was ceded to the Danes.


Godrum converted to Christianity and changed his name to Athelstan, his new Christian name. He also agreed to pull his army back into East Anglia. Various ranks of Danish and Saxon citizens and their values were set out in this Peace, and the country was now officially partitioned. The Danish held area was to be called the Danelaw.


As Athelstan, Godrum would start to issue coins in his new name, based upon the coinage of Alfred. For a viking, this was an adoption of English ways, as the traditional viking medium of exchange had always been hack-silver, for exchange by weight.

Danish settlement began in ernest following the invasion. "Here the raiding army went from Cirencester into East Anglia, and settled that land and divided it up".


In many ways the Danelaw, including East Anglia, now became like a Danish province. Old allegiances to local lords were weakened. Before the Danes, land could only be transferred by the King's charter. Viking law allowed it to be bought and sold in front of witnesses, at least in the chief towns of Cambridge, Thetford, Ipswich and Norwich. Streets like Colgate and Fishergate in Norwich took their names from the Danish 'gata', meaning street. York became a Viking capital, and its well known Coppergate derives from this time. 'Viking' objects are increasingly found at Ipswich from this period through to the early 10th Century.


Markets were known to exist at Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Dunwich. By 1086, the list was joined by Haverhill, Clare, Beccles, Blythburgh, Clare, Eye, Hoxne and Thorney at Stowmarket.


Despite the Peace of Wedmore, new Viking bands continued attacks on Wessex, although they also attacked continental Europe. The East Anglian Danes also used the Danelaw as a base from which to harry the west country.


They set up the five fortified boroughs of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Lincoln and Stamford to control and defend the Danelaw. York was the capital, well north of the treaty borders.


The Danes continued to harry Wessex at Rochester. The East Anglian Danes apparently joined in, and were attacked by Alfred. "And the same year King Alfred sent a raiding ship army into East Anglia. Immediately they came to the mouth of the Stour, then they met 16 ships of vikings and fought against them, and got at all the ships and killed the men".

By 885 the Danes had largely converted to Christianity, and within only twenty years of Edmund's death, they themselves were issueing coinage in his memory.

Memorial Penny from Thetford

Viking coinage of Danish East Anglia was issued from 885 to 915. St Edmund memorial coinage was produced, as was coinage in memory of St Martin of Lincoln. One such coin, in memory of Edmund, was copied for the 1907 Bury Pageant medallion. The moneyer was OTBERT, but the location of the mint is unknown.

It is entirely possible that the mint was in Thetford, a major town at this time. Possibly it was as big as, or bigger, than either Norwich or Ipswich in the late 9th Century.

Meanwhile Beodricsworth, the settlement to become Bury St Edmunds eventually, was probably a small community, possibly living on its memories of being a royal vill from the time of Sigbert, but now of no real importance.


"King Alfred occupied London fort and all the English race turned to him, except what was in captivity to Danish men".


By 890 Alfred had held Mercia and Wessex and established a balance of power with the invaders.


Alfred found time to translate Latin texts into English and had these distributed throughout his lands.


Coins were minted naming Alfred King of the English, but of course, in practice, this excluded the Danelaw, north and east of a line from London to Chester.

The Cuerdale Hoarde


Vikings landed in Devon and raided for more than a year.

Alfred constructed burhs or defensive strongholds along his borders, following the Danish example. He also designed new ships meant for naval battles.


The Danes, including those from East Anglia, continued to attack in the west, at the Severn and north to Chester.


Asser wrote a Life of King Alfred in which he refers to the death of King Edmund in battle.


Meanwhile the coinage known as St Edmunds memorial coinage continued to circulate in East Anglia as official Danish currency, testifying to the rapid acceptance of him as a Christian Martyr. His story was becoming more and more well known.


The Danes retreated to the East and fortified the area, but various battles continued on the borders of Wessex.


By about 900 the Danes of East Anglia were becoming fully Christianised and more coinage was circulated which commemorated King Edmund. Perhaps the idea of honouring him as a saint was becoming universally accepted.

However, the Norse settlements in Scotland, Isle of Man and Ireland were now becoming a threat even to the Danelaw. King Alfred died and was succeeded by his son Edward the Elder, who set about encroaching on the Danelaw himself.


The East Anglian Danes again started to raid into Mercia. King Edward retaliated and attacked between the Devils' Dyke and the Fens.


The peace of Tiddingford was confirmed between King Edward the Elder and the Danes both with the East Anglians and the Northumbrians.


St Edmund's remains were moved to Bedericsworth from their original burial place in a small chapel at Sutton near to the site of his martyrdom. This must have happened with active Danish involvement and support. At Bedericsworth, (Bury St Edmunds) the wooden church of St Mary was enlarged and improved to hold the new shrine for St Edmund.


Back in the days of King Sigbert he had set up a small monastery there, but it seems unlikely that the monastery still remained from 630 as local lay volunteers had to guard the shrine.


The acquisition of so notable a relic as a royal saint was to make the small town a place of pilgrimage and recipient of many royal grants.


Tradition was that one Oswen would open the tomb every Holy Week to cut hair and clip nails.


The English and the Danes fought at Tettenhall.


King Edward the Elder, the son of Alfred the Great, took an army to Maldon in Essex and built a stronghold at Witham, "and a good part of the people who were earlier under the control of the Danish men submitted to him".


Fortifications were also built elsewhere, and it is possible that Bedericsworth was made into a fortified burh at this time. Bungay and Sudbury may have been likewise fortified. At places like Thetford and Cambridge, where the Danes already had forts, Edward may have built his own burhs or forts to face them.


In Yates' Antiquities of 1805, he quotes various monastic papers as recording that Edward the Elder marched an army into East Anglia to repress the Danes. Having ravaged the country he retreated, but his Kentish men stayed behind at Bury, desirous of more plunder. They were then attacked by an alliance of Danes and the Saxon Ethelwald who wanted to contend for Edward's crown. In the battle, Ethelwald died, but the Kentish men were routed by the Danes.


The exact years in which this took place is open to doubt. One version of the Anglo - Saxon Chronicle gives 912AD, but others read it as 920, and some writers have split the difference and said it was in 917.


Edward the Elder set up several more fortified burhs, including Maldon in 916.


This was a turbulent year. Danish controlled Colchester was overcome and many of its inhabitants killed.

Hundreds were killed in a siege at Maldon when the vikings fought back.


King Edward the Elder then repaired and restored Colchester and many people submitted to him from both East Anglia and Essex which had been under Danish rule. The Danish controlled force from Cambridge also accepted Edward as Lord and Protector.

Please note that the date of this is unclear, and it may have all happened earlier, in 912, or even in 917. Nevertheless, by this time Edward seems to have broken up Mercia, his rival kingdom, into shires such as Cambridgeshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire to weaken it as one unit. A Reeve or Sheriff was set up over each shire. Perhaps East Anglia was similarly broken into Norfolk and Suffolk at this time.


Edward also set up the system of hundreds, as sub divisions of the shires, for the purposes of administration and taxation. Later the hundreds would have their own courts, often held at a ford, or at a prominent hill or barrow, also known at the time as a hoe. Examples are the Thingoe and Thedwastre hundreds in West Suffolk. The seat of the Thingoe Hundred has been long considered to be in the area of today's Northgate Avenue in Bury.


York was taken by the Norsemen under Raegnald and held by Norse Kings until Eric Bloodaxe was killed in 954.


Despite Norse success at York, by the end of his reign Edward the Elder had pushed the Danes northward into Northumbria.

He was succeeded by Aethelstan who quickly took over Northumbria and Cornwall.


According to Yates' Antiquities, monastic papers recorded that in 925 the ecclesistical votaries of St Edmund were incorporated into a college of Priests, either by King Aethelstan, or by Bederic, under royal protection. Bederic was the local chief lord, and he may have supported the new shrine by giving it land for the clergy to live off. This story is merely reporting a more formal arrangement being put in place to maintain the shrine of St Edmund.


The kings of Wessex tended to rule their dominions by way of Eldermen, or Ealdormen. From 932 East Anglia was run by Elderman Athelstan, who became so respected that he gained the nickname of Athelstan Half-King. Perhaps this helped to distinguish him from Aethelstan, King of Wessex.


Aethelstan won a major victory at Brunnanburh and the Northmen's lord was put to flight back to Dublin.


King Edmund (NB not our St Edmund) succeeded Athelstan and continued the war with the Danes. Edmund was grandson of King Alfred the Great and ruled Wessex from 939 to 946. Because he was named after St Edmund he took a great interest in his shrine at Bedericsworth.


Edmund was also interested in the church in general and wanted to help the monasteries in any way he could.


The Banleuca by 1450


According to an Anglo-Saxon Charter, in 945 King Edmund gave up his royal rights to taxes and all feudal dues and fees in the area of Bury St Edmunds for about one mile around St Edmund's shrine. M. D. Lobel was not the first writer to consider that this charter was spurious, invented by the monks at a later date to bolster their claims. The claim was that this was the first charter to confirm all the privileges claimed by the monastery. As such, its existence needed to be established, because later grants and charters tended to confirm existing rights, while in some cases, extending them.


However, the story goes that King Edmund gave these rights to the collegiate church (also called the convent) of St Edmund. It would appear that by now, the lay volunteers who had first tended the shrine since 906, had been incorporated into a college, or body, of priests.


This area of land was later to become known as the Banleuca and its grant indicates the important status of the shrine of St Edmund and the growing importance of its monastery. The income from the Banleuca belonged, therefore, to the college of priests as a whole, and did not belong to the Abbot alone when in later years, this was to become an issue.


Most of this area was farmland at this time, with only small settlements around the farms, and Bedericsworth was just a growing village around the shrine. In later years the boundaries of the banleuca were to be marked by four stone crosses on the main roads into town. The map shown here displays the banleuca and streets and buildings as they would have been by the 15th century. This grant of land by King Edmund effectively defined the administrative boundaries of Bury St Edmunds right up until 1934 when parts of Westley and Fornham were added to the town. However, once again, there is an inconsistency over dates. In the later monastic copy of the decree, the date of this charter was referred to as 945 at its start, and 942 at its end.


Eadred became King of Wessex following Edmund's death.


The King commanded much slaughter in Thetford in vengeance for the death of the Abbot there.


The end of Scandinavian domination in Northumbria came when Eadred, King of Wessex defeated Eric Bloodaxe at York in 954.


In the 25 years peace that followed there was a cultural and religious revival.

Sometime around the time after the Danelaw was reconquered the system of hundreds was marked out in East Anglia as the basic unit of administration. The Danes had left only a handful of Parish names in Suffolk and five have been identified as Risby, Lound, Ashby, Barnby and Eyke.


During the 950's it has been written that the Bishop of London inspected the body of St Edmund in his shrine and confirmed that it was incorrupt, and only a thin red crease, like a piece of thread, showed where the head had been severed.


Between 952 and 956 King Eadred set up the new diocese of North Elmham to serve Norfolk and Suffolk. The dioceses of South Elmham and Dunwich had been set up in about 680.


A King Edwy is recorded as having given the manors of Beccles and Elmswell to the monastery of St Edmund. Registers such as that of Walter de Pynchbeck also state that many of the possessions of the collegiate church of St Edmund were given in this same period of 952 to 956.


Norwich and Thetford had both flourished in this century, expanding beyond their old fortified limits.


Edgar became King and appointed Dunstan Archbishop of Canterbury in 961. Dunstan embarked on a programme of Church expansion and reform based on the new French ideas of monastic life.


When Edgar became sole king of England a uniform coinage was instituted throughout the country. A royal portrait was on one side. The reverse had a cross with the name of the mint as well as the moneyer. Under Eadgar most fortified towns of burghal status were allowed a mint. The number of moneyers depended on the size of the town.


Bury St Edmunds does not seem to have qualified to have a mint at this time.


King Edgar also recognised some of the old Danish liberties by now well established in East Anglia. This contrasted with the status of Englishmen who were still subject to the king's laws. The relative freedoms thus retained by the Anglo-Danish East Anglians helped to stimulate economic activity and wealth in the region. Some people hated Edgar for this tolerance of 'evil foreign customs'.


Theodred the second, the Bishop of Hulm, and later London, left to St Edmund's the manors of Ickworth, Whepsted, Horringer, and 'other valuable manors in the vicinity of Bury'.


Adulphus, or Athulf, became Bishop of Hulme after Theodred, and he also bequeathed valuable properties to St Edmund. In his case it was said to be nine manors, the biggest gift so far. Yates also reported that monastic papers claimed that around this time the monastery also received Cockfield and Cherlsworth from Ethelfled's will, the daughter of Earl Alfgar. The King's Chancellor Turketell, gave it Culford, part of Palgrave, and other possessions.


A new set of regulations for monastic life in England, based on Benedictine practice was drawn up by Dunstan, the Bishop of Winchester. This led to such a well trained body of monks that monastic life was strong through Danish invasion and up to the Normans.


King Edgar supported all these church reforms, removing secular monks and replacing them by celibate monks with allegiance to St Benedict's rule, rather than to local landlords.


In East Anglia, these church reforms were supported by Elderman Athelstan, 'Half-King', who helped refound the monastic houses of Peterborough, Thorney and Ely. These houses had been ruined by the Danish invasions, but at Ramsey, a great new religious house was set up.


This must have started to put pressure on the clergy who were in control of St Edmund's shrine. They may have had wives, and did not follow the new fangled Benedictine strict codes of subjugation to the rule of a monastic order.


Dunstan delayed Edgar's coronation until the king was 30, the age for ordination of priests.


The kingship ceremony was made intensely religious at this time, and the King became Christs' appointed, a religious power as well as a secular one.


King Edgar died to be succeeded by his young son Edward, who became known as Edward the Martyr.


The young king was murdered and Aethelred took the throne in very bad circumstances.


His nickname, the Unready, is believed to have been best translated as 'unwise' or 'ill-advised'. The country was incensed by the intrigue and many were ready to fight his rule.


Meanwhile King Harold Bluetooth was uniting Norway and Denmark and imposing Christianity by force, building up a strong autocratic state.




The Vikings raided the coasts and sacked London. It is possible that these raiders were pagans who were driven out of their homes by Harold Bluetooth, and his violent imposition of Christianity.


Abbo of Fleury wrote his 'Life of St Edmund' at Ramsey Abbey, near St Ives. It was based on the report of an old armour bearer of St Edmund himself. This was to become the basis of all future lives of the saint, which were reworked many times in years to come.


According to a legend of the Abbey of St Edmund, recorded many years later in monastic records, around this time Ailwin was appointed guardian of the shrine. The secular priests who had been in charge of St Edmund's shrine for most of the century had been overtaken by new ideas of what was suitable devout religious practice. The rule of St Benedict was being adopted in the new monasteries, and it seems that they were widely held to be more devout and more fitting to guard a shrine. Perhaps the local people were not ready for such a drastic change at this time, and so Bishop Algare put Ailwin, described as a monk, in charge at Bury. It would seem that he merely ruled over the existing college.


According to Dr Antonia Gransden, it is possible that St Oswald, the founder of Ramsey Abbey may have had a hand in introducing Benedictines to Bury. Oswald died in 992, so if this was the case it was well before the traditional date of about 1020 when Canute is said to have introduced them. Maybe Ailwin was a follower of St Benedict.


In the late 10th Century, a second wave of Danish attacks assailed East Anglia.


In 991 a large, well organised army led by Olaf, later King of Norway, defeated the English at Sandwich, then attacked and ravaged Ipswich. Olaf Tryggvason of Norway seems to have masterminded this attack along with Svein Forkbeard of Denmark. This led finally to the famous Battle of Maldon, commemorated in an epic poem. Olaf had 93 ships and having over-run Ipswich defeated Elderman Brihtnoth of Essex at Maldon.


By this time, Sturmer was the main centre in the Haverhill area, sending a famous Battalion under their Saxon chief Leofsunu to fight at the Battle of Maldon which took place on August 11th 991.


Sturmer remained the chief settlement in the Haverhill area until about 1050.


After these battles, the invaders were paid Danegeld of 10,000 and a peace was made, but not for long. This money was raised by taxation, and only served to produce further raids and demands. Danegeld would seriouly weaken the economy for years to come.


The Danes invaded again, not having total success despite betrayal of the King's intentions by Aelfric.


Olaf of Norway and and Swain of Denmark came to London to attack it and ravaged Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. They were given 16,000 to desist.


From 997 to 1014 viking raids occurred every year.


By this time Norwich had probably outstripped Thetford as the main city of the Norfolk area. It had better access to the sea than Thetford and could handle more trade more cheaply because of this advantage.


In a desperate attempt to regain control of his destiny, King Ethelred ordered a general massacre of all the Danes in England on St Brice's day, November 13th. His orders were unlikely to have been carried out in the Anglo-Danish area of East Anglia, but elsewhere, one victim turned out to be the sister of King Swein of Denmark.


In 1003, King Swein of Denmark invaded South West England seeking revenge for his sister. In 1004 he sailed to East Anglia. Norwich was sacked and three weeks later the force reached Thetford and burnt it down.


Ulfketel Snilling was the local Anglo-Danish Eolderman, and he raised a force to confront the invaders. Ulfketel or Ulfcytel took heavy casualties next day and lost the most senior of his East Anglian troops. However, although the invaders won the day, they too took heavy losses, and they ran for their ships and left the country. Ulfcytel had anticipated this and had sent orders to destroy these ships, but this never took place.


The Danegeld paid was 36,000 of silver.


From 1008 onwards, for administrative purposes most of Haverhill was in the Risbridge Hundred of Suffolk, but one third of it in what is now the Hamlet Road area, was in the Hinckford Hundred of Essex. This split continued for almost nine hundred years, until the end of the nineteenth century, when the whole of Haverhill was moved into Suffolk in 1896.


King Swein attacked England again. By the following year he was moving on East Anglia.


A large Danish force under Thurkill the Tall landed at Ipswich and sacked the town in the Spring. The force then moved towards Thetford. They marched to meet the Anglo-Saxon forces, led by the Earl of East Anglia, Ulfcytel, at Ringmere Heath. The battle was described as a 'bed of death', and despite help from Cambridgeshire, the English were defeated.


This location may have been at Rymer Point, near Honington, about four miles south of Thetford, or at Ringmere, four miles north-east of that town.


The Vikings ravaged at will for three months, burning Thetford, Ipswich and Cambridge. The village of Balsham was destroyed by the raiders. The village sign still commemorates the only survivor who hid in the church. Fighting also occurred at Nacton and Hadstock.


The remains of St Edmund were taken to London for safekeeping out of harm's way by a monk called Egelwin or Ailwin. In London the body was lodged at the church of St Gregory the Great.


There are some accounts, reported by Yates in his 1805 book on Bury, that Turchill, one of the Danish leaders under Sweign, having harassed and devastated the whole of East Anglia, burnt and plundered Bury. Ailwin presumably got away before this happened.


The Danes proceeded to the Thames Valley and into Oxfordshire and back to Bedford burning as they went. They returned to their ships with much plunder.


Canterbury was besieged and taken. The Archbishop was murdered by the Danes, and they left, only to return with Swein the next year.


The Danegeld was 48,000, a massive sum, the biggest ever recorded.


By now Ethelred had lost his grip and King Swein of Denmark landed to be accepted as King of Northumbria and eastern England. By the end of the year Ethelred fled to Normandy and Swein became King of all England. England was again under Danish rule.


By now it was judged safe to return the remains of St Edmund to the monastery at Bury. On the journey back, the body passed through Stapleford, and miraculously cured the local Lord. The manor of Stapleford was given to St Edmund in gratitude.


This journey was said to pass through Edmunton, Chipping Ongar, Greenstead, Chelmsford, Braintree, and Clare. An overnight stay took place at the wooden church at Greenstead, which remarkably survives today with many wooden features still in evidence. At the time it was probably entirely made of wood, as were most Saxon buildings.


King Swein Forkbeard died suddenly. He was said to have been struck dead while threatening to sack St Edmund's town or extract a heavy ransom from it. Pictures of this event were to be painted over Edmund's shrine centuries later. The local people of Bedericsworth were said to have been so pleased to be spared Swein's extortions that they voluntarily agreed to pay a carucagium, or local land tax, to the monastery. The levy was four pence on every carucate of land. In later centuries no doubt this story was produced to answer local critics who questioned why this tax should be paid.


After Swain's demise, his son Cnut (or Canute) took over, but Ethelred returned and drove him out. Cnut returned to try some inconclusive campaigning.


Ethelred the Unready died and his son, Edmund Ironside, was proclaimed King in London, but Cnut was also crowned at Southampton. After fierce fighting at Ashingdon in Essex in which Ulfcytel, Earl of East Anglia was killed, Edmund kept the land south of the Thames, and the rest went to Cnut.


The Bartlow Hills

There have been claims that this battle took place at Ashdon, near Haverhill, but this seems unlikely. Ashingdon, also in Essex, but nearer Maldon, would seem to be the more likely site. In 1805 Yates believed the Ashdon story and cited the legend of the Bartlow Hills. These four remarkable barrows were said to have been thrown up to hold the dead from the Battle between Edmund Ironside and Cnut. Today the Bartlow Hills are thought to date from around the First Century AD.


Ulfcytel left the manors of Redgrave, Rougham and eight others to the monastery at St Edmund's.


King Edmund Ironside died within a month of the Battle of Ashingdon, and so Cnut received all the kingdom. He was the first Danish King of all England, and was 23 years old. He was the famous King Canute who is said to have demonstrated that he could not hold back the tides.


Cnut built a church dedicated to St Edmund at the site of his victory at Ashingdon, in Essex, although once again, the round towered Bartlow church has been given this attribution in the past. This act of Cnut may indicate an existing interest in St Edmund which was to help the development of St Edmund's shrine at Bury in a few years time.


Suffolk, and indeed all England, was now once more under Danish rule and was to remain part of a large Scandinavian empire until 1042.


When King Ethelred the Unready had died, he left a widow, Queen Emma. Canute now married Emma and gave her West Suffolk as a wedding present. Emma was the daughter of Duke Richard of Normandy, and by this act Cnut perpetuated the Norman claim to the English throne. The gift of West Suffolk may imply that it already existed as a unit of land holding or administration.


Cnut created four new earldoms of Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria, killed several leaders of the old regime and took firm control. Thurkil the Tall was made Earl of East Anglia, for his part in the invasion. Godwin was made Earl of Wessex.


Cnut levied a tribute of 11,000 in London, and 72,000 from the rest of the country, using this to pay off part of his army. Cnut sat at Oxford to draw up laws governing both Danishmen and Englishmen. This was based on Edgar's law and Christian teaching. In 1018 Cnut also became King of Denmark, and overlord of Norway.


Canute was interested in religion and had already supported the cult of St Edmund. In 1020 he made a pilgrimage to the shrine at Bedericsworth. At Bury, King Canute had to settle a dispute between the shrines' priests and the Bishop of Elmham whose diocese included Bedericsworth. The priests refused to pay over the normal tithes etc due to the Bishop, believing that St Edmund was exempt from such dues. Possibly in consultation with his new wife, Queen Emma, who owned the jurisdiction of West Suffolk, Canute tried to sort out the situation.


To appease the Bishop, the dozen secular priests were sacked, but the Bishop did not get control. Perhaps to atone for his father, Swein's impiety, King Cnut arranged for the building of a rotunda to the church of St Mary at Bury. Bishop Ailfric of Elmham then granted the monastery freedom from episcopal control and replaced the secular priests guarding the shrine by 20 Benedictine monks from St Benet Hulme near Horning and from Ely. The Benedictines were financially and spiritually independent of the Bishop. Uvius was made the first Abbot of St Edmundsbury.


According to William of Malmesbury, King Canute also allowed the town of maybe a thousand people to be surrounded by a ditch and ramparts, becoming a burh or borough. However the town was of less significance than others in Suffolk. Ipswich already had a mint and had been a large trading centre for centuries. Thetford had been issuing coinage for years, and other towns important enough to have burgesses were Dunwich, Eye, Beccles, Clare and Sudbury.


Canute had given the town a terrific leg up by his local reforms, and had endowed the new religious house with lavish gifts. If the name of the saint had now begun to define the town as well as the religious house, then it is likely that its new status as a burh would result in the name St Edmund's Burh now starting to be used over the next few years.


The exact organisation of local government at this time is extremely vague to us today. However, we need to remember that anglo-Saxon England was a highly structured and organised society. Administration seems to have been very efficient by the standards of the time. We know that by 1097, the rents for burgage tenants, called hadgovel, had to be paid to the Reeve. This office later became called the Bailiff, and certainly by 1097, the Reeve was appointed by the abbot, and so the rents accrued to the abbey. But it is highly likely that a Reeve was appointed as part of the setting up of a burh, just as a Shire Reeve (later to evolve into the word Sheriff) was appointed to control the Shire. He was there to make sure local dues were paid to the King, and that the royal writ was obeyed locally.


These new burh dues may have included Hadgovel, or the rent of one penny for each measure of land inside the town, probably for the right to occupy a burgage tenement or dwelling. This land could be inherited by its occupier's kin, but only on payment of a lump sum.


Exactly what happened to Bederic's own rights as the local lord, at this time is not known. However, the documents do not seem to imply that he, (or his rightful successors), lost any of their old rights. Thus Bederic may have continued to receive his own local dues. These may have included Landmol, a rent on farmland in the town fields, which lay outside the town boundary. Jocelin tells us that by his time, from every acre of the nine hundred that had been Bederic's, the payment was two pence. By the time of Jocelin of Brackland, in the late 12th century, this rent was collected by the reeve and paid to the sacrist.


Bederic himself was either paying some of this cash over to Queen Emma, who had the rights in west Suffolk, or he was providing other duties and fees to her as landlord in chief. We do not know how the old Saxon system of dues had been altered by Viking rule.


Cnut had to defend Denmark against Swedish attack with heavy losses.


Cnut visited the Pope and various shrines and was an enthusiastic Christian and patron of the arts, giving many splendid gifts to other religious houses, as well as to Bury.


Cnut returned to Norway to secure his claim on it by expelling Olaf.


The new round church of stone was consecrated at Bury, situated to the north of where the Chancel of the Norman Abbey would later be built.


King Cnut died and was buried at Winchester. Cnut's household declared Harold his successor despite severe opposition from Wessex. Harold Harefoot was the son of Cnut and his first wife, Elgifu of Mercia. Emma herself wanted her own son with Cnut, called Harthacnut, to be king.


Although viking influence lingered on, the Viking Age in England really died with Canute.


King Harold Harefoot died and was succeeded by Harthacnut who was condemned by the Anglo-Saxon Chroniclers for increasing taxes and "he never did anything kingly." He was apparently prone to illness.


Danish rule finally ended when Harthacnut collapsed and died and was succeeded by King Edward the Confessor.


Edward the Confessor

He was an Anglo-Saxon, being Aethelred's son, but for 25 years he had lived in Normandy, safely away from the reach of the Danish kings.


Edward never produced an heir and the problem of succession was to become acute in 1066.


Edward was also responsible for first bringing French ideas and Norman noblemen into English life. One such man was his Physician, Baldwin, eventually to become Abbot at Bury St Edmunds.


Since her marriage to Canute, the area of West Suffolk had become administered as a unit for Queen Emma, the mother of Edward the Confessor. It had come to her as part of her dowry.


Edward the Confessor was Queen Emma's second son by Ethelred. Emma had married Canute after Ethelred died and had another son with Canute. Emma had supported Canute's son over Edward and so when Edward came to the throne, he stripped his mother of her jewellery and her income from West Suffolk. He handed it all over to the monastery at Bury under Abbot Leofstan who was the second abbot. It was described as 8 hundreds in size, and its shape was confirmed and fixed firmly when, with this gesture, the area became known as the Liberty of St Edmund and thus placed completely under the rule of the Abbot of the Abbey of St Edmund. The meeting place of the soke was at the Thinghoe, a hill to the north of the town. Today we locate it in the area of Northgate Avenue. It is likely that a court or courts of law were run from here, the town itself having its own burh court. The Liberty remained as an administrative unit until 1974. It was said that when Edward the Confessor visited the Abbey he always walked the last mile on foot as a pilgrim.


Bury in 1066

The old word hadgovel or hawgable dates from these Danelaw years, and supports the idea that the town had an administrative life at least as old as Cnut. Hadgovel was the Bury form of the word and represents the penny rent paid for each measure, or burgage plot, of town land. This rent persisted into medieval times and was often the cause of disputes with the abbey. It was payable only in the oldest parts of the town, which dated back to the old Anglo Saxon layout, around the area of the old market, what we now call St Mary's Square.


It is not clear what portion of local rents had previously flowed through to Emma, as part of her West Suffolk income, and therefore it equally unclear which local income streams were now diverted into the abbey of St Edmund. But at some point in time the hadgovel rents were assigned to the abbey and this is a point in time at which this could have happened.


The High Street of Bury was probably parallel with the river in 1044, running more or less straight from Northgate Street to Southgate Street, without the dogleg shape only introduced into it by the expansion of the abbey after the Norman Conquest. The old market place was where Westgate Street joined these two streets. Raingate Street, Sparhawk Street and Maynewater Lane would thus have been part of this anglo -Saxon area.


By contrast with West Suffolk, East Suffolk apparently had no such administrative unity until the formation of the two county councils in 1888. It contained the Liberty of St Etheldreda with only 5 hundreds based around Sudbourne before its headquarters moved to Wickham Market, then Melton, then Woodbridge, where the Shire Hall still overlooks Woodbridge Market Hill. This liberty was an endowment by Etheldreda (or St Audrey) to her monastery at Ely in the 7th century.


The Sheriff (or Shire Reeve) of Suffolk was left with the eleven hundreds remaining in East Suffolk over which he exercised the powers of taxation, and this area became called the Geldable, and its tax revenues went to the crown. Because geldable Suffolk was so small, Norfolk and Suffolk shared a Sheriff until the time of Elizabeth I.


Edward the Confessor also granted the town of St Edmund its own mint, and its currency bears the first documented use of the name St Edmunds Bury. Bury is from burh, a fortified town, so probably, by now, the town had built a ditch and ramparts on its borders where it was not protected by the River's Lark and Linnet and the Tayfen. Canute had given permission for such fortifications in 1020. The town wall would not be built for perhaps another hundred years.


The first known document to use the names Suffolk and Norfolk for the counties dates to 1045 in the will of Thurstan, son of Brihtnoth. However, the names must have been used much earlier in Anglo-Saxon times. These people were the south folk of the East Anglian kingdom, separated from the north folk by the Waveney and Little Ouse rivers. South of the River Stour the East Saxons occupied today's Essex.


By about 1050 it is possible that Haverhill had an established market under its Saxon lord Clarenbold. It seems to have eclipsed Sturmer as the main centre in the area.


The Normans claimed that William of Normandy was promised the succession to the English throne in 1051. Other claimants were Harold Hardrada of Norway, and in England, Earl Harold Godwine.


Harold Godwine died and Edward's position was strengthened at home. He invaded Scotland and replaced Macbeth by Malcolm, a more peaceful neighbour, and partly pacified the Welsh.


Abbot Leofstan of Bury built the church of St Benedict by the river at some period in his reign. However, the legend gives him a role in the miracle of St Edmund.


At some time around 1060, Abbot Leofstan decided to ensure the saints' body was still clean and not being neglected. The old monk Ailwin was called to verify the body, as he had taken charge of it back in 1010 when he took it to London. Leofstan decided to pull at the head to see if it was still miraculously attached to the body. Shortly afterwards Leofstan suffered a stroke, losing the use of his hands. The kings' physician, a French Benedictine called Baldwin was sent to give him medical aid.


Apparently, once at Bury, Baldwin stayed, eventually to succeed Leofstan as Abbot in 1065.


Earl Harold Godwinson, son of Godwine, visited William of Normandy. The Norman view is that this meeting was to confirm that both Harold and Edward supported William's claims, and this meeting features in the first section of the Bayeux Tapestry. The Chronicles do not mention such a visit.


There were now three powerful claims to the English throne, all threatening the position of King Edward. They were Harold Godwinson himself, Harold Hardrada of Norway and Duke William of Normandy.


According to Dugdale's Monasticum Anglicanum it was in 1065 that the Confessor allowed Abbot Leofstan the right to mint money. It is possible that a royal mint already existed in Bury, and that it was merely transferred to the Abbot. This confirms Bury's importance as a trading centre before the conquest. In later years the mint was set up in Le Mustowe, or today's Mustow Street, and seems to have operated here until during the 14th century.


King Edward the Confessor died, and the Chronicles say that he committed the kingdom to Harold Godwinson. Harold seized power immediately and both in Norway and Normandy preparations were made to invade England.


At Bury, Abbot Leofstan died and Abbot Baldwin was appointed and began to build a new church.


Baldwin was a French monk from St Denis, outside Paris, and was only the third Abbot at Bury. He had also been the Royal Physician to Edward the Confessor. The fact that such a learned and able Frenchman was given the Abbey at Bury at this time was to be of immense importance to the town in the aftermath of the Conquest. He would be Abbot until 1097.


Harold was crowned on 6th January in Westminster Abbey.


Soon after, Hardrada and Tostig (Harolds' exiled brother) invaded in the North from Norway. They took York on 20th September but Harold killed them both at the battle of Stamford Bridge, four days later. Hardrada's fleet of 300 ships was destroyed, and only 24 escaped. The Norwegian invasion was defeated, but the exhausted army now had to march south to face a second force.


Death of King Harold

On 27th September, the long feared attack of Williams' fleet was launched from the Somme estuary. They landed 7,000 men unopposed at Pevensey but moved to a new base at Hastings. Harold was still in York and it was not until 14th October that he could get the army down to Hastings. The fighting ended when Harold was killed by an arrow. The Bayeux Tapestry records his death as occurring from an arrow in the eye. William ravaged much of southern England, took Canterbury and Winchester and moved towards London.


On 25th December 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England and Anglo-Saxon England was no more. The Norman Conquest had taken place, and would be followed by a great takeover of Saxon property.