A Trace of Medieval Life in Turvey

The pre-inclosure map (1) of Great Oaks Farm, Turvey dated 1783 reveals, through the name of one of the plough strips, a trace back to one of the essential pillars that supported William the Conqueror (William I), and his descendants, with respect to their military strength.

William, Barons and Knights

Life was no doubt turbulent in medieval England, and in 1087 by the end of William I’s reign, the Anglo Saxon ruling class had all gone, replaced by a new ruling class of foreign nobility of Normans, French and Flemings.  William had needed loyal followers to enforce his position as King of England. The King relied on his Barons to provide manpower for warfare, to quell the Welsh and the Scots and also to defend Normandy. 5000 knights were needed to man the many strategic castles that had been built. The Barons had to agree to levies of taxes on their lands and to ensure control over the subjugated people by law and justice.

The Baron swore ‘fealty’ to the King, this was the original bargain between the King and his Barons, in return for the spoils of the invasion of England in 1066. By 1086 the Barons had received their grants of land for their loyalty. However, the privilege of land meant that the Barons were to provide a quota of knights according to the size of their land holdings, this was known as ‘Knights Fees’, when the King levied for military service. The Barons had to provide them for 40 days in a year, at their own expense when summoned. The Barons as tenants-in-chief, had two sources of knights: those permanently serving in their own households and secondly those who came in return for land, as under-tenants.

Turvey in 1086

From the transcripts (researched and produced by Bedford Historical Record Society) of the Domesday Book of 1086 held in the Reference Library, Central Library in Bedford indicate that the tenant-in-chief of Turvey was Geoffrey de Mowbray, Bishop of Coutances. He was granted the manor of Turvey, four hides of land, a water mill, meadow for two ploughs and woodland for 40 pigs.  A hide was thought to be 120 acres and a virgate was a quarter of a hide, equal to 30 acres. Beneficiary, Robert of Todeni was granted 2 hides and 1 virgate, meadow for 1 plough and woodland for 10 pigs. Robert Todeni’s under-tenants recorded in 1086 were two milites (men-at-arms). “In the Bedfordshire Domesday Book, five milites are recorded … one at Yelden, two at Turvey and two at Oakley”. (2) Robert Todeni’s land at Turvey also supported three villagers, six small holders and two slaves.

Raising of Men-at-Arms for Warfare

A leap forward to 1346 and the Writ for Levy for Crecy, an example of the raising of man power for warfare by the King, taken from the reign of Edward III during the Hundred Years War with France.  A writ was sent to the Sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1346, it reads:

To command all those whose names are contained in the roll below the seal, under pain of forfeiture of life and limbs, land tenements, goods and their chattels and all else they can forfeit to us, to have, at Portsmouth on the Sunday in mid lent next to be, Men at Arms, Hobelers (light cavalry) and Bowmen, ready to set out with us at our charges …
The Names of those who have a hundred shillings of land tenements and rents
a year in the county of Bedford appear below – Levy at one Bowman  (3)

On the list appeared the name of Robertus Mordaunt, whose family, although not appearing in the records of the Domesday Book for Turvey, had by 1231 begun a process of creating a joint half share in the Manor of Turvey.  Although it is difficult to establish where the land referred to in the Domesday Book farmed by the two men-at-arms is located in Turvey, there is little doubt that a military presence and practice continued. This is shown by the example of Robertus Mordaunt fulfilling his levy of one bowman travelling to Portsmouth to take part in the Battle of Crecy and the great victory that followed in 1346.

Pre-Inclosure Map of 1783

By 1783 most of the land in Turvey was owned by Lord Peterborough, the last descendant of the Mordaunt family. It was Lord Peterborough who had commissioned the pre-inclosure map of Great Oaks Farm prior to the sale of the land. The trace of medieval life in Turvey alluded to in the opening paragraph is found on the pre-inclosure map of 1783 of Great Oaks Farm as one of the plough strips of land is aptly named, ‘Bows and Arrows’. It maybe that one of the men-at-arms who was allocated land as noted in the Domesday Book, farmed a portion of what had become Great Oaks Farm by 1783.

(1)   Gee’s Survey Map  Bedford Archive and Records Office, catalogue reference HG1/97 –
(2)  Morris, John E.  The Assessment of Knight Service in Bedfordshire, No.1
The Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, Volume II.  1914, pp. 185-218
(3)  Fowler, G. Herbert  Records of Knight Service in Bedfordshire.
The Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, Volume II. 1914, pp. 245-263

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