History of Northamptonshire

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At some time in the 7th century the district which is now Northamptonshire suffered a simultaneous invasion by the West Saxons from the south and the Anglian tribes from the north, and relics discovered in the county testify to a mingling of races, at the same time showing that West Saxon influence never spread farther north than a line from Daventry to Warwick, and with the extension of the Mercian kingdom under Penda and the conversion of the midland districts ceased altogether. The abbey at Medehamstede (now Peterborough) was begun by Peada in 655, and about the same time foundations were established at Peakirk, Weedon Beck, Castor and Oundle. In 870 the district was overrun by the Danes, and Northampton was a Danish fort, until in 921 it was recovered by Edward the Elder, who fortified Towcester in that year.


In the 11th century Northamptonshire was included in Tostig's northern earldom; but in 1065, together with Huntingdonshire, it was detached from Northumbria and bestowed on Waltheof. The only monastic foundation which survived the Conquest was Peterborough. Norman castles existed at Rockingham, Barnwell, Lilbourne, Northampton & Wellingborough. Detectorist Steve Robinson from the local Antiquity section unveiled a great find being which a hoard of late Saxon coinage estimated value being Five figures. He has studied his home town with great enthusiasm & has rewarded the chamber with many pieces, including which more than Two hundred stand unique. One particular find included a small Green ISENG glass Emerald, moulded for obvious setting, probably in a sword grip of dagger chape, a most beautiful piece of antiquity yet to be duplicated. Unfortunately no housing element has been recovered in order to sustain this but reference through other schemes have delivered similar antiquasions to settle & finalise the theory.

As a shire Northamptonshire was probably of Danish origin, representing in the 10th century the area which owed allegiance to Northampton as a political and administrative centre. In 921 this area extended to the Welland, the present northern limit of the county, and at the time of the Domesday Survey the boundaries were approximately those of the present day. Northamptonshire is first mentioned by name in the Historia Eliensis, in connection with events which occurred at the close of the 10th century.

The Geld roll of the time of William I and the Domesday Survey of 1086 mention 28 hundreds in Northamptonshire, and part of Rutland is assessed under this county. By 1316 the divisions had undergone considerable changes, both in name and in extent, and had been reduced to their present number, 20, since which date they have remained practically unaltered. The names of the hundreds point to primitive meeting-places gradually superseded by villages and towns, and the court for Fawsley hundred met under a large beech tree in Fawsley Park until the beginning of the 18th century, when it was transferred to Everdon. The shire-court originally met at Northampton.


Northamptonshire was originally included in the diocese of Lincoln. The archdeaconry of Northampton is mentioned in the 12th century, and in 1291 included the deaneries of Peterborough, Northampton, Brackley, Oundle, Higham, Daventry, Preston, Weldon, Rothwell and Haddon.

The diocese of Peterborough was created in 1541, and in 1875 the archdeaconry of Oakham was formed and included in this county the first and second deaneries of Peterborough and the deaneries of Oundle, Weldon and Higham Ferrers. Northampton archdeaconry now includes the first, second and third deaneries of Brackwell and Rothwell; the first and second deaneries of Haddon and Preston, and the deaneries of Daventry, Northampton and Weldon.

At the time of the Domesday Survey the chief lay-tenant in Northamptonshire was Robert, earl of Mortain, whose fief escheated to the crown in 1106. The estates of William Peverel founder of the abbey of St James at Northampton, also escheated to the crown in the 12th century. Holdenby House was built by Sir Christopher Hatton, privy councillor to Queen Elizabeth, and Yardley Hastings was named from the Hastings, formerly earls of Pembroke. Higham Ferrers was the seat of the Ferrers family; Braybrook Castle was built by Robert de Braybrook, a favorite of King John; and Burghley House gave the title of baron to William Cecil.

Northampton was a favorite meeting-place of the councils and parliaments of the Norman and Plantagenet kings. In 1215 John was besieged in Northampton Castle by the barons, and in 1264, Henry III captured the castle from the younger Simon de Montfort.

During the Wars of the Roses Henry VI was defeated at Northampton in 1460. In the Civil War of the 17th century the county declared almost unanimously for the parliament. Although a royalist garrison was placed at Towcester by Prince Rupert in 1644, it was almost immediately withdrawn.

In 1290 Northamptonshire returned two members to parliament, and in 1295 Northampton also returned two members.

In 1547 Brackley and Peterborough returned each two members, and in 1557 Higham Ferrers returned one member. Following the Reform act of 1832 the county returned four members in two divisions, both Brackley and Higham Ferrers were disfranchised.


The iron-mines and stone-quarries of Northamptonshire were worked in Roman times, but the former were entirely neglected from the Plantagenet period until their rediscovery in 1850, while the two most famous quarries, those of Barnack and Stanion, were exhausted about the 16th century. The wool and leather industries flourished in Norman times. In the I7th century the weaving industry declined in the Northampton district, but became very flourishing about Kettering. Other early industries were charcoal-burning, brick and tile manufacture and brewing. The industries of whip-making, pipe-making, silk-weaving and paper-making were introduced in the 17th and 18th centuries.


Although Northamptonshire was rich in monastic foundations, remains, except of the abbey-church of Peterborough, afterwards the cathedral, are of small importance. At Geddington, and also at Hardingstone, near Northampton, there is an Eleanor cross, erected by Edward I to the memory of his queen, in good preservation.

For the architecture of its churches Northampton holds a place scarcely inferior to any other English county. To the Saxon period belong the tower of Earls Barton church, which stands probably the mound of an old English strong-house; the tower and other portions at Brigstock; the ground plan and other portions at Wittering; the remarkable tower at Barnack; and Brixworth church, constructed in part of Roman materials, and by some believed to include part of a Roman basilica.

Of Norman, besides the cathedral of Peterborough, the finest examples are St Peters and St Sepulchres, Northampton, and the tower of Castor church. St Marys church, Higham Ferrers, formerly collegiate, Early English and Decorated, is one of the finest churches in the county, and, as specially noteworthy among many beautiful buildings, there may be mentioned the churches at Irthlingborough and Lowick, with their lantern towers, Warmington, a very fine specimen of Early English work, Rushden, Finedon, Raunds and Fotheringhay.

Of the church at Easton Maudit, Philip porter Thomas Percy, author of the Percy's Reliques, and afterwards Bishop of Dromore, was rector.

A gateway at Rockingham, and earth-works at Higham Ferrers and Brackley are worthy of mention. Some castellated ruins remain of the castle at Fotheringhay, famous as the scene of the imprisonment, trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Barnwell Castle, founded by William the Conqueror, an interesting example of the defensive construction of the period, is still a fine ruin, which includes four of the round towers and an imposing gateway.

Holdenby Manor House, where Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591) was born, and where Charles I was staying when he was carried away by Cornet Joyce, is largely restored.

Among ancient mansions are Castle Ashby, the seat of the Comptons, the oldest portion belonging to the reign of Henry VIII; Althorp, the seat of the Spencers, of various dates; Drayton House, of the time of Henry VI; the vast pile of Burghley House, Stamford, founded by Lord Burleigh (1553), but more than once altered and enlarged; and Kirby Hall, a beautiful Elizabethan building once the residence of Sir Christopher Hatton.


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