PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England


[Image: Excerpt from the Domesday Book]
[Image: Durham Liber Vitae, folio 38r (extract)]

Tholf 2 Tholf the Dane, fl. 1066

Author: CPL
Editorial Status: 4 of 5

Discussion of the name  


Tholf 2, called Tholf the Dane in one of the Hampshire entries, was a significant landowner in the west country. His most important shire was Dorset, where he was among the leading thegns in 1066, but he also owned land in all four of the shires neighbouring Dorset, that is Hampshire (almost as important to him as Dorset was), Wiltshire, Somerset, and Devon. In all he had eighteen manors assessed at over 100 hides and worth some £95. His byname must surely mean that he was among the Danes settled in the heart of Wessex by the Danish kings of the earlier eleventh century, but he did not attest such of their charters as have survived, or Edward the Confessor’s.

Distribution map of property and lordships associated with this name in DB

List of property and lordships associated with this name in DB

Holder 1066

Shire Phil. ref. Vill Holder 1066 DB Spelling Holder 1066 Lord 1066 Tenant-in-Chief 1086 1086 subtenant Fiscal value 1066 value 1086 value Holder 1066 ID conf. Show on map
Devon 22,1 Powderham Torsus Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu Ranulph 'the man of William d'Eu' 0.50 6.00 6.00 B Map
Devon 22,2 Whitestone Toli Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu Ranulph 'the man of William d'Eu' 0.25 0.30 0.50 B Map
Dorset 34,2 Bradford Peverell Tol Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu William Belet 17.00 12.00 12.00 A Map
Dorset 34,5 Lytchett Matravers Tholi Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu Hugh Maltravers 12.00 9.00 10.00 B Map
Dorset 34,6 Blandford St Mary Tou Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu William Belet 3.50 2.00 2.00 A Map
Dorset 34,6 Blandford St Mary Tou Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu William Belet 0.50 0.15 0.15 A Map
Dorset 34,8 Swyre Tol Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu William Belet 9.00 9.00 9.00 A Map
Dorset 34,12 Tarrant Toul Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu William Belet 3.50 1.00 4.00 A Map
Dorset 34,14 Stock Gaylard Toul Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu Hugh Maltravers 1.00 2.50 2.50 A Map
Dorset 34,15 Stourton Caundle Toul Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu Hugh Maltravers 3.50 3.00 3.00 A Map
Hampshire 32,1 Somborne Tol Tholf the Dane Edward, king William d'Eu - 14.00 14.00 16.00 A Map
Hampshire 32,2 Deane Thol Tholf the Dane Edward, king William d'Eu - 20.00 10.00 12.00 A Map
Hampshire NF4,1 Rowditch Coolf Tholf the Dane Edward, king William d'Eu Bernard Pancevolt 1.25 2.00 1.50 B Map
Hampshire NF4,1 Rowditch Coolf Tholf the Dane Edward, king William, king - 0.25 0.25 0.25 - Map
Hampshire IoW1,4 Wellow Coolf Tholf the Dane Edward, king William, king - 2.00 10.00 15.00 C Map
Somerset 19,57 Shepton Montague Toli Tholf the Dane - Robert, count of Mortain Drew 'of Montacute' 5.00 7.00 5.00 C Map
Somerset 26,8 Tickenham Teolf Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu - 4.25 2.50 3.00 B Map
Wiltshire 25,23 Upton Scudamore Tous Tholf the Dane - Ernulf de Hesdin Regenbald the chancellor 2.50 2.00 2.00 C Map
Wiltshire 29,3 Bincknoll Toli Tholf the Dane - Gilbert de Breteuil - 1.75 0.90 0.90 C Map
Wiltshire 32,16 Tollard Royal Toli Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu - 1.00 1.00 1.00 B Map
Wiltshire 32,17 Upton Scudamore Toli Tholf the Dane - William d'Eu Ansfrid 'of Frome Vauchurch' 3.00 0.75 3.00 B Map
Total               105.75 95.35 108.80  



The key to identifying Tholf the Dane lies in the recognition that he was one of the two main predecessors in the west country of the Norman lord William d’Eu, the other being Ælfstan of Boscombe (Ælfstan 69). Because the identification involves bringing together a number of Domesday spellings which von Feilitzen and others have regarded as representing names other than Tholf, the identification needs to proceed step by step, starting where Tholf the Dane’s manors were most heavily concentrated, Dorset.

In Dorset, William d’Eu had two main predecessors, Ælfstan of Boscombe and a man whose name is variously spelled Tou (×2), Toul (×3), and Tol (×2), all acceptable forms of Tholf (von Feilitzen 1937: 389). In the same shire William acquired one large manor from Tholi, a spelling which von Feilitzen (1937: 386) assigned to the name Toli. This is the only Tholi in Dorset and might represent the spelling Thol inadvertently given an additional letter, or the spelling Thou where the minims of the final letter have been misread as li.

In Hampshire, William had the same two main predecessors, Tholf appearing once as Thol and once as Tol dacus (‘the Dane’), the only place where DB gives his byname. The latter entry originally had a further letter at the end of the name after Tol, which the scribe erased by scratching the ink off the parchment; a small part of the erased letter remains visible: it was certainly not an i, and looks most like an a.

The separate section of the Hampshire folios which deals with the New Forest lists a further manor belonging to William d’Eu, and names his predecessor there as Coolf.  Coolf might be the OE name Cuthwulf, as von Feilitzen thought (1937: 220), but the association with William d’Eu raises the suspicion of another miscopying. The other DB Cuthwulfs can be securely identified (Cuthwulf 14–16), and none of them is likely to have held this particular estate. Might the name here instead be a misreading of Toolf, for Tholf? Although the capital letters C and T looked different from one another in contemporary English script, lower-case c and t were formed in similar ways and easily confusable.

The spelling Coolf occurs only once more anywhere in DB, also in Hampshire, and at a manor on the Isle of Wight just across the Solent from the first Coolf. If one of them was really Tholf the Dane, then surely both were.

In Wiltshire, William d’Eu’s main predecessor was again Ælfstan of Boscombe; two of the three which had not been Ælfstan’s were entered with the name Toli. Following the spelling of a name which is relatively common in DB, von Feilitzen naturally assigned them to the name Toli. But the same consideration applies in Wiltshire as in Dorset: Toli could stand for Tol or Tou and thus for Tholf. There was in fact another Toli in Wiltshire, at Bincknoll; although his property did not pass to William d’Eu, he needs to be brought into this analysis shortly. Although almost a dozen Tolis can be identified in DB, none of them held land in the west country (Toli 2, 4–13).

William d’Eu’s fief in Somerset introduces a further complication, but one which casts light on Toli of Bincknoll (Wilts.). William’s Somerset manors had mostly belonged to Ælfstan of Boscombe; one of the others, Tickenham, had been held as two manors TRE by Saulf and Teolf. The corresponding entry in Exon (438v.) shows that they had held jointly with exactly equal shares of 4 hides 1 virgate apiece. As a west country predecessor of William d’Eu, Teolf is likely to be yet another spelling of Tholf, and not, as von Feilitzen suggested (1937: 382–3), the CG name Theodulf or ON þióðólfr (ODan Thiuthulf), neither of which is well attested in pre-Conquest England.

Returning now to Bincknoll, half the vill was divided TRE between a holding shared by Saul and Aluuinus (Wilts. 29:4) and another held solo by Toli. The two holdings interlocked and had perhaps recently formed a single unit: Toli’s was assessed at 2 hides less 1 virgate (a relatively uncommon way of expressing 1¾ hides) and the other at 3 hides and 1 virgate, together making 5 hides. The ploughlands were disposed in almost the same proportions, Saul and Aluuinus having land for 10 oxen and Toli land for 6 oxen, a ratio of 10:6 which is very close to the assessment ratio (in virgates) of 11:7. This looks like a recent division between Saul and Aluuinus on the one hand and Toli on the other. There are good grounds for thinking that Saulf of Tickenham (Som.) and Saul of Bincknoll (Wilts.) were the same person, Sæwulf, so that so Teolf of Tickenham (who had an equal share with Sæwulf) and Toli of Bincknoll (whose share might well have been the same size as Sæwulf’s) must have been the same person, Tholf the Dane.

In Devon, one of William d’Eu’s two manors had belonged to Toli; the name had been written in Exon (459r.) as Tolus, a Latinization of Tol rather than Toli (which would have produced Tolius, as at Essex 30:17). This shows how the spelling Tol for Tholf could become first Tolus and then Toli. Successive recensions of the DB material in which Latin endings were added and then taken off may well explain how an original spelling Tol became Toli in all the instances discussed here.

William d’Eu’s other Devon manor had belonged TRE to Torsus (Torssus in Exon 457r.), explained by von Feilitzen (1937: 397) and by his guide for this name (Redin 1919: 37) as an ON byname þurs (ODan Thurs). There is no independent evidence that Thurs was a real name, and the eccentric DB form is surely again better interpreted as yet another variation of Tholf. In this case a plausible explanation is that the sequence lf at the end was misread in some earlier recension of the DB material as the long insular letter r followed by a long s, Latinized in Exon by doubling the final letter and adding –us, and then losing one of the ss in GDB.

All these considerations amount to a compelling case for identifying Tholf the Dane as the predecessor of William d’Eu and masquerading under a great variety of spellings, some of them readily recognizable as the name Tholf, others at first sight standing for different names. There is, of course, an alternative: that William d’Eu had west country predecessors called Tholf, Thurs, Teolf (whatever name it represents), Toli (perhaps more than one), and Cuthwulf. Apart from the last, this, however, involves the unlikely recurrence of vaguely similar names as William’s predecessors.

Further weight is therefore given to the identification of Tholf the Dane by the manner in which William d’Eu’s fief was constructed. His most common predecessor was Ælfstan of Boscombe; what had once been Ælfstan’s lands (and in some cases his men’s) made up all or almost all of William’s fief in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Somerset, and Wiltshire, about half of it in Dorset, and a few manors in Gloucestershire, Hampshire, and Berkshire. Most of the rest of the fief, including nearly all the other large manors, came from what is here assigned to Tholf the Dane, making up most of the rest of William’s fief in Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire, and adding his only two manors in Devon. The shape of William d’Eu’s fief in 1086 almost exactly followed the combined holdings of Ælfstan of Boscombe and Tholf the Dane, with the only significant enlargement being in Gloucestershire.

Neither Ælfstan of Boscombe nor Tholf the Dane was specified as being William d’Eu’s antecessor; indeed, neither of them was in the way in which DB used the word antecessor. The person for whom that description was reserved was a Norman, Ralph de Limésy, who is explicitly called William’s antecessor in a Gloucestershire entry (Glos. 31:2) and is implied to have been his antecessor at several other places (Dors. 34:6; Glos. W8, W16, 31:4, 9–10). Ralph preceded William as the holder of estates which had belonged both to Tholf (Dors. 34:6) and Ælfstan (Glos. 31:4), and may well, for reasons which will become apparent, once have held all of their estates which ended up with William d’Eu.

Ralph de Limésy probably arrived in England as a follower of Earl William fitzOsbern, who gave him the large grant of 50 carucates of land beyond the river Wye in south Wales (Glos. W16). He continued to hold there under William’s son, Earl Roger de Breteuil, and may well have disappeared through forfeiture after the young earl rebelled and was defeated in 1075. Some caution must be expressed on that point, since a Ralph de Limésy still held land in 1086, though not in Gloucestershire and not entirely in areas where fitzOsbern had held authority. Either Ralph de Limésy stayed loyal to the king in 1075 (but was nonetheless required to surrender some of his manors in the redistribution which followed); or the 1086 Ralph was a different man. .

Ralph’s fate is not crucial. The fact is that William d’Eu is not known to have been active in England until the 1080s (Bates 1998: nos. 21, 123, 146, 156). His late arrival as an English tenant-in-chief in succession to Ralph de Limésy leaves plenty of time for estates which had originally passed from Tholf the Dane to Ralph to have been dispersed either by Ralph himself or in the immediate aftermath of 1075, and so not have come to William d’Eu when he eventually acquired Ralph’s fief, whether in 1075 or some little time later.

Four of the manors here regarded as Tholf’s did not come to William d’Eu. The TRE owner of each was recorded in DB with a spelling previously regarded as some name other than Tholf, so that their failure to pass regularly from Tholf to William needs to be explained.

First, Tholf (Coolf)’s manor of Wellow on the Isle of Wight was undoubtedly excluded from William d’Eu’s fief because Wight as a whole was initially given to William fitzOsbern, before being taken back by King William after the 1075 rebellion. Wellow was still in the king’s hands in 1086.

Second, that part of Tholf’s holding at Upton Scudamore (Wilts.) entered with the name Tous was held in 1086 not by William d’Eu but by Ernulf de Hesdin (Wilts. 25:23). In fact, Tholf’s property at Upton was divided: 3 hides to William and a smaller part to Ernulf. There was some dispute over the division, since DB says that Ernulf’s manor of 2½ hides included ½ hide of William d’Eu’s land; the ½ hide appears again in William d’Eu’s fief as held wrongfully (injuste) by Ernulf, but it is not clear whether it was included in William’s 3 hides or additional to it. The implication is that Upton Scudamore was supposed to be divided in a certain way between William d’Eu and Ernulf de Hesdin and that Ernulf had occupied more than his fair share. A division of Tholf’s property in the vill may date from some arrangement made between Ernulf de Hesdin and William d’Eu, or earlier between Ernulf and Ralph de Limésy. Ernulf’s and William’s fiefs certainly overlapped in the west country, especially in Wiltshire, and such exchanges by neighbouring Norman lords were not uncommon.

Thirdly, Tholf (Toli)’s holding at Bincknoll (Wilts.) passed to Gilbert de Breteuil rather than William d’Eu. Gilbert, who took his byname from one of the chief Norman strongholds of William fitzOsbern, has generally been supposed a man of fitzOsbern who stayed loyal to the king when fitzOsbern’s son rebelled in 1075. He had two other manors at Bincknoll, and probably acquired Tholf’s smaller share of the vill from William d’Eu (or earlier from Ralph de Limésy) to round off his property there.

Finally, Shepton Montague (Som.) passed from Tholf (Toli) to Robert, count of Mortain, rather than to William d’Eu. Count Robert’s very extensive estates in south Somerset may well have been put together on a geographical basis, sucking in the estates of different pre-Conquest landholders because of location and irrespective of antecessorial succession, and arranged as a castlery around Montacute (Som. 19:86; Loud 1989: 23).

Tholf and his estate

The implication of Tholf’s byname, dacus, ‘the Dane’ (Tengvik 1938: 135), is that he actually was Danish, either by birth or parentage. Danes were undoubtedly settled as landowners in the south-west under Cnut or his sons (Insley 1982), and presumably Tholf was among them.

Tholf’s most important shire was Dorset, not least for the concentration of his manors there, though Hampshire ran it close. The four small manors in north Wiltshire, north Somerset, and Devon were outliers, amounting to no more than 10 per cent of his holdings by value or assessment, thought they served to extend his influence north of Salisbury plain, north-west to the Bristol Channel, and south-west as far as the Exe estuary. His Dorset estates spread across all parts of the shire without any significant concentration, they made him one of the leading thegns of a shire dominated by the estates of the king, Earl Harold, and the local religious houses (the bishopric, Cerne, Milton, Shaftesbury, and Abbotsbury).




%age of hidage

Value (£)

%age of value





































Tholf had dealings with the bishops of Sherborne (or perhaps with Queen Eadgyth as lord of Sherborne) in that he held 1 hide at Stock Gaylard (Dors.) ‘in pledge of the land of Sherborne’. Otherwise his connections are hard to pin down. Apart from the Hampshire manors, where it was routine to say that they were held of King Edward, there is no statement about land held from others.

One notable feature of Tholf’s landed estate is the hints of an association with towns. Circuit II has little information about the urban property of pre-Conquest magnates, but there are some stray references. His manor of Lytchett Matravers included property in Wareham (Dors.); and his manor of Somborne (Hants) included nine burgesses’ houses which must have been in Winchester rather than some nascent borough at Stockbridge, especially since the manor seems to have been Upper Somborne (in King’s Somborne), not Stockbridge itself (VCH Hants, IV, 474, contra Phill. Hants note 32:1, citing Hill 1975; cf. Beresford and Finberg 1973: 120–1). Perhaps as significant is the location of Tholf’s furthest flung outliers: Tickenham was only 5 miles west of Bristol, and neither of his Devon manors stood much further from Exeter, by far the two largest towns west of Winchester. Tholf’s acquisition of interests near Bristol and Exeter may well have been deliberate policy.

William d’Eu’s predecessor has in some accounts been called ‘Toli the Dane’, either by taking what seem now to be mispellings as the normative form of the name, or simply by misreading DB’s Tol dacus in the entry for Somborne as Toli (Clarke 1994: 350). Partly as a result, and partly by following von Feilitzen’s attributions of the more eccentric variant spellings to other names, Clarke’s reconstruction of the estate differs at several points from that proposed here.


Beresford and Finberg 1973: M. W. Beresford and H. P. R. Finberg, English Medieval Boroughs: A Hand-List (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1973)

Bates 1998: Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum: The Acta of William I (1066–1087), ed. David Bates (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)

Clarke 1994: Peter A. Clarke, The English Nobility under Edward the Confessor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994)

Hill 1975: Rosalind Hill, ‘The manor of Stockbridge’, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club, 32 (1975), 93–101

Insley 1982: John Insley, ‘Some Scandinavian personal names from south-west England’, Namn och Bygd, 70 (1982), 77–93

Loud 1989: G. A. Loud, ‘An introduction to the Somerset Domesday’, The Somerset Domesday, [ed. Ann Williams and R. W. H. Erskine] (London: Alecto Historical Editions, 1989), 1–31

Phill. Hants.:  Domesday Book, ed. John Morris, 4: Hampshire, ed. Julian Munby (Chichester: Phillimore, 1982)

Redin 1919: Studies on Uncompounded Personal Names in Old English (Uppsala: A.-B. Akademska Bokhandeln, 1919)

Tengvik 1938: Gösta Tengvik, Old English Bynames, Nomina Germanica 4 (Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksells,1938)

VCH Hants.: The Victoria History of the Counties of England: The Victoria History of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, ed. William Page [and H. A. Doubleday], 5 vols and index (London, 1900–14)

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