Land of Count Alan

Latin, Terra Alani comitis.

In the Domesday account for Yorkshire, and in the Yorkshire Summary, the 199 manors of the castlery of Richmond are described outside the Wapentake system, under the rubric Land of Count Alan. This may have been because the area had not yet been brought within the normal Anglo-Saxon system of local government, but it might also have been due to the fact that this very large area was a castlery, subject (as it were) to martial law. The castlery occupied virtually the whole of the western half of the North Riding of Yorkshire. The bulk of Count Alan's fief composed the medieval honour of Richmond, later known as Richmondshire.

Much of the remainder of Yorkshire was composed of similar compact lordships, though none were on quite the scale of Richmond.

The military-zoning of the county is a reminder of the problems the Conqueror had faced in bringing Yorkshire under control, problems which explain the exceptionally harsh manner in which it was treated. Like most of the remainder of Yorkshire, the lands of Count Alan appear to have been severely affected by the Conqueror's 'harrying of the north' in 1069-70. Despite signs of recent redevelopment, more than half of the 199 manors in the castlery (YKS Sn,CtA45) were still waste in 1086 and their value had declined by 60% since 1066. If these statistics are to be believed, the situation in the immediate aftermath of the 'harrying' 16 years earlier must have been truly appalling, so appalling in fact than some historians simply cannot credit that medieval armies could inflict damage on this scale and have sought an explanation of these numbers in defects in the Domesday record rather than the ravages of Norman armies. Contemporaries, and the Domesday record of waste, however, suggest otherwise. The damage inflicted may have taken generations to repair. More than half-a-century after the event, William of Malmesbury wrote of the harrying:

Thus a province once fertile and a nurse of tyrants was hamstrung by fire, rapine and bloodshed; the ground for sixty miles and more left entirely uncultivated, the soil quite bare even down to this day [my italics]. As for the cities once famous, the towers whose tops threatened the sky, the fields rich in pasture and watered by rivers, if anyone sees them now, he sighs if he is a stranger, and if he is a native surviving from the past, he does not recognise them (Gesta regum, vol. 1 (1998), page 465).

There is evidently some hyperbole here; but William was a careful historian and his testimony that in parts of Yorkshire 'the soil [was] quite bare even down to this day', two generations later, deserves some credit.

For more detail on Richmond in particular, and the Norman settlement of the north in general, see W.E. Wightman, The Lacy family in England and Normandy, 1066-1194 (1966); W.E. Kapelle, The Norman conquest of the north: the region and its transformation, 1000-1135 (1979); Paul Dalton, Conquest, anarchy and lordship: Yorkshire, 1066-1154 (1994); and Judith A. The aristocracy of Norman England (1997); and for the debate on the 'harrying', see R. Welldon Finn, The Norman Conquest and its effects on the economy, 1066-1086 (1971); D.M. Palliser, 'Domesday Book and the harrying of the north', Northern History, vol. 29 (1993), pages 1-23; and John J.N. Palmer, 'War and Domesday waste', in Armies, chivalry and warfare in medieval Britain and France, edited by Matthew Strickland (1998), pages 256-78.