William Malet

Eye Castle
Eye castle, Suffolk
Photo © soapbeard, April 2006

It is possible that William Malet and Duke Harold were both godfathers of Adela, daughter of William and Matilda.

“Guillaume, whom they call Malet, also threw himself boldly into the midst. With his flaming sword he terrified the English. But they pierced his shield and killed his horse, and he would have been slain himself, when the Sire de Montfort and William de Vez-Pont (Vieuxpont) came up with a strong force, and gallantly rescued him, though with the loss of many of their men, and mounted him on a fresh horse.”

William Malet was the one appointed by the Conqueror to take charge of Harold’s body after it had been identified By Edgyth Swanneshals after the battle. Malet was awarded large grants of land in Yorkshire for the part he played in the Northern expedition and the reduction of Nottingham and York in 1068. Mallet was left governor of York and held York Castle in 1069 when it was besieged first by the Northumbrians and then by the Danes. In this final attack Earls Waltheof and Garpatric burnt the city, slew three thousand Normans and took Gilbert de Ghent and William Malet prisoner. The eventual fate of William Malet is unknown, however his son Robert succeeded to the honour of Eye in Suffolk and at the compilation of Doomsday possessed 268 manors in England.

It is believed that William Malet died fighting "Hereward the Wake". A Domesday book entry records, "...He went into the marsh", and that "...he went on the King's service, where he died". --

In Saxon Britain , prior to the Norman Conquest , Eye was one of the numerous holdings of Edric of Laxfield, a wealthy and influential Saxon and the third largest land holder in Suffolk . After the Norman Conquest , the importance of the town was firmly established in the region when the Honour of Eye was granted to William Malet, a Norman Lord, and continued to be held by royal or noble families until 1823 . Between 1066 and 1071 , Malet constructed a castle, to establish his military and administrative headquarters, and started a highly successful market thus initiating the urbanisation of the settlement . Later in 1086-7, Robert Malet, William's son, founded the Benedictine Priory of St Peter , a cell of the Abbey of Bernay in Normandy .

Eye began to lose its strategic importance after 1173 when the castle was attacked by Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk , during the rebellion against Henry II , and later during the Second Barons' War of 1265 after which it never regained its former status. Its prison continued in use up until the early C17th despite a programme of demolition of most of the castle buildings during the C14th. A windmill , built in 1561 -2, stood on the motte until the circular mock keep was built in 1844 . The ruins of the keep are still in place today, and Castle Street and Church Street trace the elliptical shape of the former outer bailey .

There has been a church in Eye at least since 1066 but the present building, the Church of St Peter and St Paul, dates from the C14th and is considered one of the finest churches in the county. A C13th Early English doorway, from a former building, was retained in the construction of the C14th church. In the C15th, and again the C16th, there were periods of further new work and renovation. The church was restored in 1868 by James Colling, a London architect. A particular feature of the church is the magnificent late-C15th rood screen which has a loft and rood designed by Ninian Comper in 1925 . The screen is reputed to originate from Great Massingham Priory in Norfolk .

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