Two families and three civil wars

History of Huddersfield

Two families and three civil wars

After the Norman invasion of England in 1066 things get easier as far as histories of the country are concerned, but much of this is concerned with the people who owned the land. There is not much written about the common people, and as my interest is in the common people, this is a sprint through the history of Huddersfield area from the late 11th century up to the 18th.

There are two prominent family names, de Laci and Ramsden that are impossible to ignore.

The first, the de Laci family, were in charge of the Manor of Huddersfield as part of the Honour of Pontefract. The Domesday Book of 1086 says:

In Odersfelt Godwin had six carucates of land for geld where eight ploughs can be.  Now the same has it of Ilbert [Ilbert de Laci] but it is waste.

Odersfelt is the old name for Huddersfield. I can only imagine that the H was added by some olden Day Hyacinth Bucket in order to make the ton sound posher than it is. In any case the people of Huddersfield largely ignore the H when speaking of their home town.

The main thing that the Normans brought to Britain was poverty. The feudal system was brought in, meaning that the crown stole the land and the previous owners became serfs, farming the land for little reward for the Lords of the Manor, the de Laci family, who as well as the Honour of Pontefract held lands in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Ilbert was not only a Norman, a stealer of the land in the eyes of the native population but also an absentee landlord taking the wealth of the area to spend or invest elsewhere. If the Norman history Huddersfield and district were retold as a Western, the de Laci family would wear black hats. These were the bad guys.

1st civil war – The Anarchy

The Norman era came to the end in a civil war, known as the Anarchy. In that war period a charter was given by the last Norman king, Stephen, gave Henry di Laci permission to rebuild the castle at Castle Hill above Huddersfield. It was at this time that the trench separating the inner bailey of the castle from the outer bailey was dug. The castle was complete by the end of the 1140s and it is believed that King Stephen himself stayed, or at least overnighted in the castle.

By 1154 another French dynasty had taken over the throne, the House of Plantagenet. The Second Plantagenet King, Richard I, taxed his English subjects to pay for projects in his French homeland, Anjou, then the Crusades he led and the ransom for his release after being captured were met by his English but not French subjects. Serfdom was well established. Even the Magna Carta, under Richard’s successor, John, which wile being a turning point in the move from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, if you were a peasant, which was most people, the merchant class was small, meant one thing – you were still oppressed. No change there.

The Peasants Charter, signed by Richard II in 1381, was not passed by the Barons. Serfs were still serfs. In the Plantagenet period the de Laci family relinquished their hold on the Manor if Huddersfield which reverted to the crown. About the same time, about 1320, there was building of a settlement in the outer bailey at Castle Hill, though it is not known if the two events are related.

The 100 years war and the 2nd civil war – The Wars of the Roses.

What undid the abject poverty of the serfs was that the English kings were losing their territory in France, and set up a number of campaigns to protect their land, during this time the grip of the crown and barons on the land became weaker, but there was still war to pay for. Freedom for the serfs, but still poverty. Yet the 100 years war was futile as the reigning House of Plantagenet split into two factions, the houses of Lancashire and York. These two houses fought for the throne, and with no armies across the Channel, the French got the territories of Anjou and Normandy, except for the Channel Islands.

Lancaster had the upper hand in the Wars of the Roses at first, but York gained the upper hand later on. The Huddersfield area supported York, which is not as unsurprising as you might think, the East Riding of Yorkshire supported Lancaster. I the end, after the crown toing and froing, Richard III was killed in battle and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII, a Welshman on the throne.

The 3rd civil War – The English Civil War

The name English Civil War is ironic, not just because wars are not civil, but it is the only one of the civil wars fought in England to include the Scots.

During the Tudor period, in 1599. the Manor of Huddersfield was bought by William Ramsden, in whose family the town remained until 1920. four years after the town was bought James I, became King of England as well as being King James VI of Scotland.

The Stewart period was another turbulent one. There was a failed assassination attempt on James I, known as the Gunpowder Plot, then in the reign of Charles I civil war, Charles was deposed, escaped, raised another army and killed. For once regicide was not followed by a new King, but Oliver Cromwell set himself up as Lord Protector. Upon his death Cromwell, who disliked the idea of kingship, was succeeded by his son Richard. Oh the irony. It would seem that the only lesson to be gained from history is that the people in power do not learn lessons from history. If you ever hear a politician saying, “we will try that again, it will be different this time,” they are deluded.

As for Huddersfield’s part in the war, the nearest battle was at Adwalton Moor, near Bradford, a Royalist victory. Of Huddersfield the local gentry were Royalist, as expected as they had recently purchased the town from the crown and did not want to lose it. Sir John Ramsden was a colonel in the Royalist army, but I can find nothing of his war record.

That’s the story of the great and the good, or in this case mostly the great and the terrible. Back to the social and religious history in the next blogs on the subject over the next few Thursdays.

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