PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England


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

Ælfhere 25 Ælfhere ‘Isenthegn’, fl. 1066

Author: SDB
Editorial Status: 2 of 5

Discussion of the name  


A provisional attempt has been made to identify this person; however, the material remains to be checked and edited, and the profile remains to be written.

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
Gloucestershire 32,11 Little Lydney Alfer Ælfhere ‘Isenthegn’ - William fitzBaderon - 6.00 4.00 2.00 - Map
Hampshire 3,1 Chilcomb Ælfer Ælfhere ‘Isenthegn’ Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury Walkelin, bishop of Winchester unnamed monks of Old Minster, Winchester, in 1086 0.00 1.08 2.40 D Map
Kent 2,25 Stowting Ælfhere ‘Isenthegn’ Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury Robert, count of Eu 3.00 8.00 10.00 - Map
Kent 2,32 Ulcombe Alfer Ælfhere ‘Isenthegn’ Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury Robert, count of Eu 5.00 10.00 9.00 - Map
Somerset 3,1 Seaborough Aluer Ælfhere ‘Isenthegn’ Edward, king Osmund, bishop of Salisbury Walter Tirel 1.50 1.50 1.50 - Map
Surrey 21,5 Litelfeld Alfer Ælfhere ‘Isenthegn’ - William fitzAnsculf Baldwin fitzHerluin 0.50 0.19 0.19 - Map
Total               16.00 24.77 25.09  



The name Ælfhere, borne by a famous ealdorman of the Mercians in the mid tenth century and by one of the Essex thegns who defended the causeway at Maldon against the Vikings in 991, was evidently in decline by the year 1000, the only certain eleventh-century example outside DB being a moneyer at York in the 1040s. The absence of the name in other contexts strengthens the case that the 18 instances of the name as a TRE landowner represented very few individuals. The identifications proposed are of a wealthy thegn of Earl Harold with six Norfolk manors worth £26, minor thegns with single manors in Devon and the Cotswolds worth respectively 10s. and 40s., and a fourth Ælfhere who owned nine manors scattered across southern England between East Kent and the Forest of Dean.

Both Kentish manors assigned to the name, Ulcombe and Stowting (where Ælfhere was named in DM but not in GDB), were held as tenancies of the archbishopric of Canterbury. They were not especially close together, Ulcombe located in the Chartland of mid Kent, south of Holmesdale, and Stowting under the lip of the North Downs some 18 miles to the east, where the Roman Stone Street comes down the escarpment. Their common tenure, the rarity of Ælfhere’s name, and the size of the two manors in question allow for a confident assertion that they belonged to the same man. Stowting’s earlier history connects it with the important Kentish family which carried the byname Bigga. The manor had been the subject of an agreement between Archbishop Æthelnoth (1020–38) and the prominent East Kent landowner Æthelric Bigga, confirmed c. 1045, under which it was to be held by Æthelric and his son Esbern for the term of their lives, with reversion to the archbishop unless the lease was extended for one of their ‘friends’ (freonda). Esbern Bigga was certainly still alive in 1066, so presumably the lease had already been made over during his lifetime to Ælfhere as one such freond, evidently here meaning a kinsman rather than merely a ‘friend’ in the modern sense.

The other estates assigned to Ælfhere in southern England show a remarkable correlation with the production and use of iron, and two of them were also held on lease from Archbishop Stigand. 

In Sussex, Ælfhere was attributed four manors, three of which were either themselves within the area of rich iron ores in the Weald or had outliers there (Leslie, Short, and Rowland 1999: no. 12). Ewhurst was in the ironworking area and included Bodiam, where the statement that ‘the hall was in that place’ (illuc fuit Halla) in the past tense surely points to the location of the manorial centre in Ælfhere’s time. A manor centred at Selmeston, just north of the Downs in Pevensey rape, included an outlier of ½ hide in Henhurst hundred immediately west of Ewhurst-Bodiam. Selmeston’s neighbour Tilton probably did not itself have access to Wealden resources. Burleigh, in another area of iron-ore deposits on the Surrey border some 25 miles to the west, was said by the hundred jurors to have been held TRE by Ælfhere as 1½ hides ‘from Holy Trinity in the manor of Wootton’, identifying it with the 1½ hides removed from the archbishop of Canterbury’s manor at Wootton because after the Conquest it fell in the count of Mortain’s rape of Pevensey. No TRE information is given in the entry for Wootton, which was near Selmeston, but tenure from the archbishop there is enough to identify the Sussex Ælfhere with the landowner of the same name and tenure in Kent.

In Surrey it is marginally more likely that not that the same Ælfhere had a small Wealden manor of ½ hide at Litelfeld, a lost place which after the Conquest was combined in a single holding with Anstie, on Stane Street due south of Dorking. That location is some 15 miles through the Weald from Ælfhere’s Sussex outlier at Burleigh, and there were other Kentish interests in Litelfeld’s hundred of Wootton, Wealden berewicks of Æthelnoth Cild’s great manor of Bramley (centred on the river Wey above Guildford), and a largeish manor belonging to an Abbot Alsi who can be identified as Æthelsige of St Augustine’s.

In Somerset, an Ælfhere owned half a manor of 3 hides at Seaborough, in the steep hills along the Dorset boundary, where the ‘free men’ (presumably meaning the villans) owed 1 bloom of iron each to the adjacent ancient royal manor of Crewkerne (in the hands of Earl Harold’s sister Eadgifu in 1066). Before the Conquest Seaborough was held by lease as part of Crewkerne in exactly equal shares by Ælfhere and Alfred (Ælfred), men who shared a name element and may well have been brothers. A bloom was a large bar of iron, weighing perhaps 84 lbs., in its earliest state after smelting and the removal of impurities; it implies ironworking locally, with all that required in the organization of labour and resources, notably large amounts of coppiced wood for making charcoal. Iron renders to royal manors are recorded elsewhere in Somerset and beyond, and may well have been far more common than the limited record reveals. Nonetheless, it is striking that the name of Ælfhere recurs on this particular royal manor and in connection with a large annual render of iron.

More remarkably still, Ælfhere’s name appears again at the Gloucestershire manor which DB calls ‘Lydney’ and which represents the place later called (from its chapel) St Briavels, from the thirteenth century well documented as an important centre of ironworking in the Forest of Dean.

The final estate which can be associated with the same Ælfhere with some degree of confidence was land for 1 plough within the bishop of Winchester’s great manor of Chilcomb, part of a total of land for 9 ploughs plus 30 acres in the hands of seven separate holders TRE who held by lease from the bishop and could not withdraw to another lord. The bishop’s manor encircled the city of Winchester on almost every side, and the leaseholds included a few acres of meadow which must have lain by the Itchen on one or both of the short stretches upstream and downstream from Winchester which were later within the bounds of the episcopal manor of Barton. In 1086 the seven leaseholders had seven ploughs in demesne and two more in the hands of 7 villans and 30 bordars. The disproportionately large number of bordars look like the sort of suburban smallholders and craftsmen who have been identified in many other later eleventh-century English towns. All in all, the leaseholds seem more likely to have comprised a single block of suburban land divided among tenants rather than separate agricultural holdings scattered across the wider Chilcomb estate. Ælfhere may well be the man of that name who also had a house in the city in Southgate Street in 1066. Tenure here, from the same landlord as two manors in Kent and one in Sussex, would have facilitated Ælfhere’s access to the royal capital of Winchester.

The association with Æthelric and Esbern Bigga probably identifies Ælfhere’s local origin in a Kentish family which was of growing importance under the Danish kings and Edward the Confessor. The name Alfred occurs in Kent as a member of that family, Alfred Bigga, and as Ælfhere’s co-tenant in Somerset. Ælfhere also had a particular association with Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury and bishop of Winchester, which extends from Kent to Sussex and Hampshire. More remarkable is the link between Ælfhere and the iron industry in the Weald of Sussex, the Forest of Dean, and south Somerset. The suggestion can be made that Ælfhere was in some way involved with ironworking, either on his own account or perhaps (in view of his house and suburban holding at Winchester) as a supplier to Archbishop Stigand and the king.


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