THE HARROWING OF THE NORTH 1069 -
xxxxxDuring the first four years of the Norman Conquest, William was faced with outbursts of rebellion across his new kingdom. The majority were small local uprisings and these were promptly put down, but in the north, in Northumbria, the uprisings were on a much larger scale. There, opposition was led by Edgar Aetheling, the named successor to Edward the Confessor. Matters came to a head in 1069 when the Norman Earl of Northumbria, on his way to his new domains, was killed in Durham -
xxxxxFor the Anglo-
xxxxxThese localised disturbances were promptly put down, but the biggest threat to Norman rule was centred in the North, where Anglo-
xxxxxThis put an end to the immediate revolt, but later in the year a large Danish force arrived and made possible a rebellion on a much larger scale. Within a matter of weeks a combined English and Danish force had seized the castle at York and taken control of the whole of Northumbria and parts of Mercia. Once again William marched to the North, more determined than ever to stamp out the rebellion at any cost. He defeated the Mercian rebels at Stafford, occupied the city of York, and then, driving back the Danes, forced them into submission. He was then free to embark upon a campaign of terror and devastation the like of which England had never seen or suffered before. He saw this as the only means of gaining control of the North and securing his new kingdom.
xxxxxThe Harrowing of the North, as this campaign came to be called, was a series of operations designed to lay waste the whole of Northumbria. William showed no mercy. From York to Durham, for example, every village was destroyed and the inhabitants slaughtered. In addition, a scorched earth policy across the whole of the region -
xxxxxThis ruthless policy -
xxxxxIncidentally, according to the Norman historian Orderic Vitalis (1075-
xxxxxIn 1079 a further displacement of people occurred in the south of England, but it was on a much smaller scale and there was little loss of life. In that year some 150 square miles in present-
Map (England): by courtesy of Dr Shirley Rollinson – http://www.drshirley.org. Map (The North): from www.allabout1066.net. Bayeux Tapestry: full size copy at Reading Museum, Reading, Berkshire, England.