Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thorkill of Arden

When Leofric, Earl of Mercia, died in 1057, his estate of Kingsbury passed to his widow, the Countess Godgifu, better known to later generations by the Latin version of her name, Godiva. The Domesday Book, compiled on King William's orders in 1086, lists her as a landowner as of the Conquest in 1066, but no longer. So where did her property go?

Prior to William of Normandy's attack in 1066, Edward the Confessor had been inviting Normans over the Channel as councilors; several of them had already been given lands. After 1066, Normans were put into all positions of power, and Saxon nobles were demoted to lesser landholders. Two Saxons, however, had chosen to support William in 1066. One of these was Thorkill of Arden (also called Turchill).
Early Heraldry for Arden

Thorkill's father, Æthelwine, was a nephew of Leofric and the Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1066. Perhaps Thorkill saw supporting William as a way to enhance his own standing. Perhaps he truly believed that William was the rightful ruler; reasons why he might were discussed here. Perhaps he just didn't like Harold. In any case, he was confirmed as Sheriff after his father's death.

At some point—the simplest explanation is the death of the Countess Godiva, whose date we do not know—King William gave Kingsbury and its 700 acres to Thorkill. This made Thorkill the sole member of the pre-1066 Saxon nobility to hold an estate of any significance at the time of Domesday.*

Thorkill held Kingsbury for several years; he is listed as the landowner in Domesday. King William's third son was crowned William II on 26 September, 1087 by Bishop Lanfranc. William II was in many ways a successful king, although not universally popular; perhaps confiscating people's lands had a role. William took Kingsbury away from Thorkill. That was not the end of the Arden family's prosperity, however: they remained prominent in Warwickshire politics. A descendant, Mary Arden, was the mother of Shakespeare.

*That is, of the nobility; Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester was, technically, the most powerful Englishman in 1086.

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