THE NORMAN TAKEOVER
Boston began as part of Skirbeck, unlike today when it is the other way round. The Normans turned it into a thriving settlement they called ‘St Botolph’s Town’ after a saint who had been given land by the River Witham for a monastery. It was shortened around the year 1400 to ‘Boston’. In 1066 three people claimed the throne of England after the death of Edward the Confessor. Harold II who was chosen by the English earls and crowned their new king; Harald Hardrada, king of Norway; and William of Normandy who claimed that Edward the Confessor had promised him the throne. At this time Boston was an insignificant settlement in the Skirbeck Hundred where ancient fenland routes crossed the River Witham. The Lord of the Manor was Ralph, a leading Saxon nobleman known as the Constable. Its inhabitants had a strong Viking heritage and more than half were sokemen, peasants with considerable personal freedoms.
While William was making preparations to invade England, Hardrada landed in the Humber estuary. Earl Edwin, King Harold’s brother-in law, led the men of Lincolnshire against him but they were beaten. However Harold soon arrived and defeated the invaders at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. By this time, however, William had landed in England and Harold rushed south. In the ensuing battle at Hastings the Saxon army was destroyed and Harold was killed.
In the years that followed the Normans took control of the country building castles and ruthlessly supressing any resistance, including Hereward the Wake and his fenland guerrillas. William divided up England between himself and his supporters. He gave them new titles and made them swear an oath of loyalty to him, known as the Oath of Salisbury. So none became too powerful William scattered their new lands throughout England. He made a list called the Domesday Book so he knew exactly what tax they should pay and what military service they should give him.
Boston and the surrounded area was split many ways. The Count of Brittany, nicknamed Alan the Red, because of his red beard, became the Earl Richmond. His lands included Ralph’s manor at Skirbeck that covered all Boston’s east bank. The ‘Skirbeck Quarter’ went to Eudo, son of Sperwic, and Guy de Croun received the land on the west side of the river. The Croun family later married into the de Roos family; Rosegarth Street, Boston, and Roos Hall, Frieston are named after them. Villages such as Wyberton, Frampton and Fishtoft were split between the de Croun’s and the Earl of Richmond. Bicker was shared between the Earl, Guy de Croun, the Archbishop of York and Countess Judith.
Countess Judith, niece of William the Conqueror, married the Saxon Earl Waltheof in 1070. He had been a supporter of King Harold but changed sides after the Battle of Hastings. In 1075 he became involved in a rebellion against William and when Judith found out she told William. Waltheof was arrested and executed. He was secretly buried in Crowland Abbey by its monks who later included his effigy when the abbey was rebuilt. Countess Judith inherited the Earl’s lands that included a manor at Bicker where she lived for a time.
The Norman Conquest set Boston on course to become the tenth richest town in England. Yet, in spite of the changes, one thing remained constant: the independence inherited from its Viking past. This would one day inspire the creation of a new and grander Boston on the other side of the Atlantic.