Baronial estates in 12th century England: pulling together some backstory for my novel

I was up early on Sunday. Too early. My favorite coffee hangout doesn’t open until 7am on weekends. I almost called for the Zombie Response Team.¹ No coffee and I feel like a zombie! I tried to convince the baristas at Radina’s that they should open at 5:30, but no, they aren’t going for it…

Devonshire landholders in chief, Domesday Book

Yesterday’s research was verifying the  crops being cultivated in Lincolnshire in the 12th century. This morning, in my zombie-like state whilst waiting for coffee, I reviewed my notes and re-read “Lincolnshire’s medieval lords” in Platts’ Land and people in medieval Lincolnshire: History of Lincolnshire IV. In that book we learn that many estates were granted to Norman lords, or tenants-in-chief, after the Conquest in 1066. Smaller estates – like my fictional Greyton – would have been granted to knights in reward for their service to a king.

With that information, I needed to establish when it might seem reasonable for Henry de Grey’s family to have become part of England’s baronial system. In Men of the Cross, Henry refers to himself as a small estate holder and calls his betrothed’s father a minor baron. So, backtracking just a bit:

  • Henry was born in 1170 during the reign of Henry II (of Thomas Becket ‘fame’)
  • Henry’s father, Edward de Grey, was born in 1146
  • Henry’s grandfather, born 1120
  • Great-grandfather de Grey, born 1100
    • served Henry I (reigned 1100-1135), the son of William the Conquerer

The Domesday Book (1086) does not reflect the fictional de Grey family in Lincolnshire – no surprise there. While it is fictionally possible that Henry de Grey’s great-great grandfather was granted some acreage north of Grantham and to the west of the River Witham after that great survey, I’m going to assume it was great-grandfather de Grey who received that honor around the year 1125.

Henry’s father and grandfather were also knights, but in my own twisted mind, it makes more sense that the land had been in the family for a while, almost 70 years by the time book 2 of Battle Scars opens in 1193. The land and the people of Greyton are part of what makes Henry who he is. There are glimmers of that in book 1; readers will see more of that Henry in book 2.

Readers will also see that book 2, For King and Country, mentions the period known as the Anarchy – the reign of Henry I’s successor, King Stephen (1135-1154). Henry (de Grey)’s family may have struggled to keep hold of their land in the civil war between King Stephen and Matilda, who was the daughter of Henry I. My main character, Henry, knows his grandfather served King Stephen. His father Edward served Henry II. (Henry was a very popular name during the Middle Ages!) What if Matilda had overthrown Stephen? (Well, she did – briefly.) Oh my… Let’s not even go there. Of course, we all know that Matilda’s son – Henry II – was Stephen’s successor. Confused? Don’t worry. You won’t need to know all this to enjoy Battle Scars!

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¹Photo (taken by me) is from Thursday’s journey across the prairie to Lawrence, KS. My boss was driving (a hybrid, not a covered wagon). Sorry it’s a bit fuzzy, but that’s what happens when you’re going 75mph.

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Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart.

Char also writes science fiction. Echoes of the Storm was published in July 2020.

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