Lordship and Feudalism

The Marcher Lords of England

Archer on a gaming piece from GloucesterChepstow castle keepChepstow castle keep doorwayWhen dividing up the spoils of victory after 1066 William the Conqueror usually gave a baron land in a number of different parts of the country to prevent him developing a regional power base from which to threaten the crown. On the Welsh border, however, William adopted a different policy.

Soon after the Conquest a rebellion by a Saxon thegn, Eadric the Wild, supported by Welsh allies, prompted William to create three powerful earldoms based on the towns of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford. The earls were given extensive judicial powers, almost becoming kings in their own domains, but in return they were expected to defend the frontier and extend Norman power into Wales. Typical of these so-called Marcher Lords (a march is a boundary or frontier area) was William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford, a powerful and ruthless warrior. By his death in 1071, he had pacified his part of the border and built a great castle at Chepstow on the Welsh side of the River Severn.

Ludlow Castle, Shropshire  [English Heritage]The round nave of the chapel in the inner bailey of Ludlow Castle (Photo P.Ottaway)Within the earldoms each lordship was centred on a castle and the densest concentration of mottes and baileys in Britain was on the English - Welsh border. Alongside many castles a borough, or small town, was established as a centre of administration and economic activity. Good examples include Montgomery, close to a castle established by Roger of Montgomery in former Welsh territory in 1070-4, and Ludlow where the castle was begun by Roger de Lacy in 1085.

By the end of the 11th century William's policy, also followed by his son William Rufus, had paid off and the Marcher Lords had successfully extended Anglo-Norman power over much of Wales.

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