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FIRST PERIOD, A.D. 1066-1247.
ROBERT DE TODENI. Arms, Gules, an eagle displayed within a bordure, argent.
THE noble position of Belvoir Castle would lead the observer to expect, that its site must always have been an object of great interest to the successive dynasties of people, who in their turn were lords of the country. Considerable research has not indeed brought to light any proofs, that the ancient British availed themselves of its importance, either for a civil, or a military purpose. That it was, however, a warlike station from the earliest period, can be little doubted. Its obvious advantages as a commanding post of observation, could not have been overlooked by the most uncivilised people; especially when consisting, as the ancient British did, of numerous tribes, to whom war formed a sort of daily pastime.
By some writers, the hill on which the Castle stands, is asserted to be the Margidunum of Antoninus: an opinion to which, Camden, from the signification of the name, and its distance from Vernometum, a Roman station in Leicestershire, and from the town of Pont, or Ponton, strongly inclines. That very competent authority conjectures, that Margidunum, or Marle-dunum, means a hill of marle: which if not found at Belvoir in any remarkable abundance, so as to justify the appellation, it is, he naively observes, "haply, because no man seeketh for it." He adds another derivation, which may approve itself to the reader's judgment with more facility than the former. He suggests, that by the term Marga, the Britons implied plaster, which is digged up, as he was informed, hard by; and, which was much in request with the Romans, for white pargetting, and in making of images, as Pliny in his Natural History testifies. (Britannia, p. 536, Edit. 1637.)
The fact, that one of the most distinguished nobles of the invading army of the Conqueror, selected this as an appropriate spot for the erection of a stronghold against the untamed disaffection of the Saxons, proves, that its site was soon appreciated even by a stranger. In thus assuming that the hill of Belvoir, is, for the most part, a natural elevation; it is not without some distrust in his own judgment, when the author finds himself in opposition to names of very high authority; by whom, it is considered for the most part, artificial. It certainly does now possess some features peculiar to itself, when compared with other elevations in its immediate neighbourhood. But this relative difference is not so great as to prove, that more was done to give it its present appearance, than possibly might be effected by the labour which was commonly bestowed to render any fortified elevation as inaccessible to an enemy as possible. And, perhaps, no spot in the kingdom required, at the time of the Conquest, more
elaborate means of defence than Belvoir.
Situated as it is on
the junction of two counties, in one of which, (Lincolnshire) the Saxon population was more numerous, as the record in Domesday Book proves, than in any other county in the kingdom, except Norfolk; and in the immediate neighbourhood of other counties with a proportionate population, all strongly inimical to the new possessors; surrounded too by a country, which, from its woods and marshes, and other features of imperfect cultivation, afforded secure lurking places for the discontented Saxons, and rendered their dislodgement, by strangers to the locality, next to impossible under these circumstances, the fortress of Belvoir was essentially necessary for the protection of the conquerors, as from its commanding situation, it secured them from the disastrous effects of a sudden surprise.
It may, indeed, be fairly assumed, that the Conqueror himself, the wisdom of whose military policy cannot be doubted, would judge so highly of the importance of this situation, as to intrust its guardianship to that one of his followers only, who, in his judicious appreciation of past services, had satisfied him, that he possessed in the necessary degree, the requisite qualifications. The noble Norman, who, as his Standard-bearer, marshalled him on to the conquest of so fair and valuable a territory as England, had approved himself as the person most capable, perhaps, among his distinguished compeers, of the high trust now to be imposed upon him. This estimate of the relative position in which the Conqueror, and his valiant Standard-bearer, stood to each other, is not merely an ingenious speculation. The circumstance, that ROBERT DE TODENI, in the survey taken at his death, was found to be possessed of four-score manors, is ample evidence of his own distinguished merit, and of his sovereign's munificent regard. A representation of the Castle built on this occasion, has been preserved in a scal
attached to an original charter of confirmation of property granted to the Belvoir Priory, by Robert de Todeni, and his descendants to the fourth degree. It there appears a
substantial embattled elevation of three tiers, the two upper of which have on the face a succession of Norman arches, and buttresses in pilaster fashion. Two rude representations of men's heads facing each other, are at opposite corners of the battlements; behind one of which rises a staff, with a flag, something in the shape of a knight's pennon. The whole is surrounded by a massive embattled outer wall. The seal upon which is this representation was that of William de Albini IV.
Robert de Todeni, having built his castle, and by his valour and wisdom secured an interval of peace and security, now turned his thoughts with the pious, if mistaken foresight of the age, to a future state; benevolently providing at the same time the means of religious instruction for his numerous dependents at Belvoir. At the foot of the Castle, he founded (1077) a Priory for four Black Monks; which, by subsequent stipulation with Paul, Abbot of St. Albans, became a cell of that distinguished monastery; and endowed it with ample revenues for the support of the monks; who were to pray for the souls of Count Robert de Mortaigne, Earl of Cornwall, half brother to the Conqueror; of Robert de Todeni, the founder, and Adelais his wife; and for the soul of the king; as well as for the souls of their parents and children.
Secular cares intervened to prevent his personal superintendence to the completion of the good work he had begun. By the advice of Lanfranc,* the then Archbishop of Canterbury and his intimate friend, he assigned the privileges of a patron to the Abbot and fraternity of St. Albans, upon condition, that they should complete his design. It was condiLanfranc was Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1070 to 1093.
tioned also, that the bodies of himself and wife should be buried at St. Albans, if they died in England; or in the Church of St. Mary's Priory at Belvoir; but this not without the consent of the Abbot of St. Albans. Robert de Todeni
having thus given the patronage of the Church of St. Mary to the monastery of St. Albans during his life, promised that he would further endow it with a tenth of all the lands, he might acquire by the help of God, or the grant of the king. The particulars of the endowment in a more detailed form, may be worth notice, as tending to illustrate the habits and pious munificence of our forefathers. Robert de Todeni gave for the present, one villa (Horninghold in Leicestershire) with all its appurtenances, for as free, and undisturbed possession, as he had holden under the king. He gave also four carucates of land, (each carucate containing about six score acres of ploughed land) with the meadows to them pertaining, near the Castle; and twenty acres of land near the church, for constructing offices and other buildings necessary for the monks and their vassals, on the same unfettered conditions of possession. He granted also the tenths of all his vineyards, and a site for a mill on the nearest stream; the tenths of all his villas; the first fruits of all that was titheable; reserving a third for the presbyter of each village. Of the villas, thus subjected to voluntary imposts for the support of religion, we find the following mentioned:-Stoke Wyvill, Wybarston, supposed to have been a village in Lincolnshire, near Belvoir, Sapperton, Wyvill, and Woolsthorp. This de-appropriation of property, did not in all cases consist of the same amount. In some
villas, he gave tenths; land for a certain number of oxen; carucates of land; gardens; and the service of a vassal in each. In others, only a part of these were granted. The whole amount, however, given to the Priory of Belvoir, by him and his successors, produced, at the time of the dissolution of monasteries, a considerable revenue, worth probably