How many battles has Northampton had?
Part 1. Saxon, Viking and Norman
At the centre of the country, astride one of the main routes to the North, Northampton has always been recognised for its strategic importance. And in 1329 Geoffrey le Scrope at the Eyre of Northampton described it as “the ideal place to control the country from”.
It was the Danes that first recognised its importance fortifying the town and building a Burh which has been estimated to have had ramparts 3,000 ft (910 m) in length. A Danish Army led by earl Thurferth was also based in the town.
In 921 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles notes that “The same summer, betwixt Lammas and midsummer, the army broke their parole from Northampton and from Leicester; and went thence northward to Towcester, and fought against the town all day, and thought that they should break into it; but the people that were therein defended it, till more aid came to them; and the enemy then abandoned the town, and went away.”
By 941 Northampton was ruled by Mercians when it faced an unsuccessful siege by King Olaf of York. The Danes came to the town again in 1010, this time commanded by “Thorkell the Tall” and this time the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that “Before the feast-day of St. Andrew came the enemy to Northampton, and soon burned the town, and took as much spoil thereabout as they would; and then returned over the Thames into Wessex, and so by Cannings-marsh, burning all the way”
When Siward, the Earl of Northumbria died in 1055, it started a chain of events that would eventually lead to the Norman Conquest. As his son Waltheof was too young to inherit, the Earldom was given to Tostig Godwinson, brother of Harold. However, as soon as he was of age, Waltheof was created the first Earl of Northampton. However, in 1065, Morcar son of Ælfgar, earl of the Mercians, rebelled against Tostig. Gathering an army, he marched south, joined by the men of Nottingham, Derby, and Lincoln, members of the old Danish confederacy of towns, and met Edwin, Earl of Mercia, who was at the head of a force of Mercians and Welshmen stopping at Northampton. Harold, by this time the leading noble in the country was sent to negotiate. Hearing their demands, Harold returned south. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells what happened next: “But the Northern men did much harm about Northampton, whilst he went on their errand: either that they slew men, and burned houses and corn; or took all the cattle that they could come at; which amounted to many thousands. Many hundred men also they took, and led northward with them; so that not only that shire, but others near it were the worse for many winters.” As a result, Tostig was deposed in favour of Morcar. Tostig then left England for Norway and the rest as they say is history.
In the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, Waltheof was the only Saxon Earl to yield to William and retained his estates in Northampton. However in 1069 he joined Sweyn II’s failed invasion of Northern England but was pardoned by William. In 1070 he married Judith of Lens, Williams’s niece, but five years later was implicated in a plot centred on Norwich by his wife. William was not so forgiving this time and Waltheof was executed in 1076.
William replaced Waltheof as Earl of Northampton with one of the knights who landed with him in 1066, Simon de Senlis. In 1088 he married Maud, daughter of Waltheof and Judith, inheriting all of her estates. And, by 1089 had begun building Northampton’s castle and town walls.
On the death of William a contest for the crown of England between his sons William Rufus and Robert Curthose he rebelled against William Rufus supporting Robert Curthose. Hugh de Grandmesnil sheriff of Leicester, who also had extensive lands in Northamptonshire including West Farndon, Marston Trussell, Thorpe Lubenham, Weedon Bec, Ashby St. Ledgers, Welton, and Staverton, supported Curthose and although details are scant, the chronicles record how Leicestershire and Northamptonshire were both ravaged.