The Normans, Robert Count of Mortain and Tintinhull

Extract from Bayeux Tapestry. Click on image to view whole tapestry.

Tintinhull in the Domesday Book- An analysis of the entries in Great Domesday and Exon
(Frank Thorn)

The making of the Domesday Book


William, 38 year old bastard son of Robert Duke of Normandy was crowned King of England at Westminster on Christmas Day 1066. William of Normandy assumed, with his crown, an office already invested with high powers and heavy responsibility by the Saxon house of Wessex.
The Norman army took over a going concern in the economic assets of the Saxon English, the successful and traditional farming methods and especially the Saxon administration with shires, relevant courts and officers.
The Norman settlers did not cling together in limited territory, as the Saxons had. They spread themselves thinly over the whole country. Ultimately this must have favoured their integration and must explain the preservation of elements of the Old English heritage. In Somerset the castles at Montacute, Dunster and Neroche were rapidly built to enable a limited force to oversee the shire for the Normans.
The settlers were not all Normans. At the Battle of Hastings there was a Breton (from Brittany) contingent on the left flank and a French contingent, from Boulogne, Picardy and Flanders, on the right flank. This diversity of origin became important as it established links with parts of Western Europe, other than Normandy. This brought more and varied influences to bear on post conquest England. The knights who fought with William were rewarded with land.
A new overlord stepped onto the local scene. Robert, Count of Mortain and half brother to William the Conqueror (see offspring of Herleva of Falaise) was given a total of 549 estates, including land at Biscopestone ('Bishopstone', today's Montacute, Montagud in Domesday) in return for contributing 120 ships to the invasion force. He was the second greatest lay magnate in England. According to William of Malmesbury (1090 - 1143) he was "a man of a heavy, sluggish disposition, but no foul crimes are laid to his charge. He had evidently the courage of his race, and his conduct as a commander is unassociated with any act of cruelty. Scandal has not been busy with his name as a husband. No discords are known to have disturbed his domestic felicity". Mortain was a frontier territory, bordering on Brittany and Maine and Robert consolidated its defences by building castles at Mortain town, St. Hilaire-du-Harcouët, Le Tilleul and Tinchebray.

No stranger to castle building, by 1068 he had constructed the motte and bailey castle on St Michael's Mount, Montacute.. He then induced the Abbot of Glastonbury to exchange the Tintinhull lands for an estate he held at Camerton near Frome, thus increasing his holding in the area of the castle.

The Normans encountered pockets of resistance for 5 years. The successful defence of Montacute Castle, against a local uprising in 1068, shows the importance of these strongholds to the Normans. Later they were used as bases for the furthering of the political ambitions of their owners. The Anglo-Norman aristocracy became used to a system where each family strove to increase its influence by the acquisition of new estates, by marriage, and by political alliance and therefore a castle was a sign of social standing and power.
The Normans, themselves of Viking origin, quickly displaced the English (Anglo Saxon) landowners and introduced their own ideas, bringing changes. The transfer of land from the English to the Normans was virtually complete by 1086, when William ordered the survey that resulted in the Domesday Book. (View The Making of Domesday Book lecture to TLHG).
The Domesday Book is a fantastic historical and topographical record; it gives a huge amount of information about the English and England in the late C11th. No other European country has an equivalent. Somerset filled up during the C10th- 11th with a population rising to around 65,000. Farming activity was widespread with most of the lowlands extensively ploughed, although the central marshlands (The Levels) were still un-drained. All but the highest ground was well occupied and there was twice as much woodland as there is today.
Specifically, in Tintinhull we know that the estate encompassed
7 hides and 1 virgate of arable land
 60 acres of meadow
 200 acres of pasture
 57 acres of wood .
The demesne arable of the Count of Mortain amounted to 4 hides farmed by 5 serfs with 2 ploughs.
The rest of the land was worked by
19 villeins
 9 bordars
 with 8 ploughs.
Land held by Drogo amounted to 1 virgate.
The significant pasture and meadow land was stocked with
2 riding horses
 5 cows
 30 pigs
 and 94 sheep.
The whole estate was worth £16, an increase of £6 in 20 years.

The Normans introduced a feudal system based on their need to provide and equip a standing army. The structure was as follows:-
The King
 The Lord of the Manor
 His tenants of this sub tenancy required an entry payment and subsequent dues. Even a free man was not independent, but tied to his master.
 Villeins. These could rarely accumulate enough to buy anything, least of all their freedom.
 Dues were also paid on marriage and (in order to retain an adequate work force) a severe penalty was levied on any father whose daughter wished to marry out of the community, so few could afford to do so.
1087 was a notable year. William the Conqueror died. Storms ruined the harvest and disease in the cattle spread quickly, so the peasants of Tintinhull would have been extremely hungry. An absentee landlord, for Robert spent a lot of time in Normandy, will not have helped their plight.
Robert of Mortain died about 1095. He was succeeded by his son William.

About 1102 William built a Priory for Cluniac monks at Montacute As part of the endowment he gave the Manor of Tintinhull to the Priory. This included the church,
 the Hundred,
 the mill,
 the 13 day fair
 and the appurtunances in fief, a fee held by military service.

On the death of William the Conqueror, William of Mortain became involved with the power struggle between his sons. William Rufus was given England and his brother, Robert, Normandy. William Rufus was killed by an arrow whilst out hunting in the New Forest and his younger brother Henry claimed the throne. Henry I took the struggle to France where William of Mortain sided with Robert of Normandy. Tinchebrai in Mortain, in September 1106, was a decisive battle. It only lasted for an hour, but most of Robert's army were captured or killed. He and William of Mortain were to spend the rest of their lives in captivity. Thus Count William was dispossessed by Henry I and all of his local lands were granted to the Cluniac Monks at Montacute.

The title Count of Mortain was subsequently held by Stephen, King 1135
 His son William, 1154 - 59
 Henry II after 1159
 John, brother of Richard Lionheart, 1189-1199
It was no longer valid in England after the loss of Normandy.
Recaptured by the House of Lancaster, Edmund Beaufort, grandson of John of Gaunt was created Count of Mortain.

D Robbins Oct 05
Modified April 2009