The Normans were descended from Vikings who had settled in Normandy, married into the local population and adopted the French culture. After the invasion they quickly gained control of the southern part of the county, but were met with hostility in the north and east.

King William initially had control of the old kingdoms of Essex, Kent, Wessex, Sussex and part of Mercia. Edwin Earl of Mercia and his brother Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, were delighted that William had overthrown the Godwin family in Wessex and believed that he would be satisfied with the territory he had already gained and so would leave them in control of their kingdoms. If they had understood their true situation and attacked William before he became established, they may have been able to overthrow him.

An engraving of a silver penny from King William's reign.
Three months after his coronation, King William returned to France and took with him the people who were most likely cause any trouble while he was away, including Edwin and Morcar. During his absence, unrest began to grow and there was an attempted invasion by Eustace, Count of Bolougne, who was Edward the Confessor’s brother-in-law.

William hastily returned in December 1067 and set about consolidating his hold on the country. He took Exeter after an 18 day siege and began to build castles at important sites. His wife Matilda arrived here in 1068 and was crowned Queen. When he returned to Normandy in 1069 one of his most formidable lieutenants, Robert de Commines, and 500 of his followers were slaughtered after a drunken debauch in Durham. 

The Norman castle at York was besieged and on the king’s return he put down the rebellion and sacked York. William was hated by many of the English and more resistance to his rule was to follow.  

William and his army swept through the northern counties from Shropshire to Durham and the Scottish borders on a mass killing spree. Villages were burned, animals slaughtered, crops destroyed and any survivors were left to starve. This led to the deaths of over 100,000 people and effectively ended any further resistance in this part of the country.

A Danish fleet arrived off the Northumbrian coast to lend support to the general uprising. This was led by King Swein who had as much claim to the English throne as William, if not more.  He was the nephew of King Canute and was joined by Edgar the Atheling who was the main English claimant to the throne. William managed to buy-off the Danes and Edgar fled to Scotland.  

The final English revolt took place in the fenlands of East Anglia in 1071. Hereward the Wake led a number of raids on the Normans from the safety of the marshes around Ely. He was joined by Earl Morcar, whose brother Edwin had been murdered by his own men. William sent troops into the marshes and defeated the Saxons. Hereward escaped but Morcar was captured and imprisoned.

William felt that he could not trust the Saxons at all and the remaining Saxon landowners had their lands taken away, to be given to trusted Normans. After 1066 most of Mercia still belonged to Earl Edwin of Mercia, but after his death the estates were divided amongst William’s followers. Much of local Mercia including Upper and Lower Penn was given to Ansculf of Picuigny who built a motte and bailey castle at Dudley.

Under William the medieval feudal system continued to be used. William owned all of the land and divided it up into areas, which were each ruled by a tenant in chief who was one of his trusted barons. They each controlled their area in return for payment from taxes and supplied soldiers for the king’s army. Each area was divided into smaller areas (manors) that were controlled by the baron’s knights who were called lesser or mesne tenants. They had to take an oath of loyalty, carry out any required duties and pay taxes for their land. Each manor would include several villages whose inhabitants were called peasants. There were several classes of peasant. The highest was a freeman who was free to pursue a trade. The other classes were owned as part of the land and were not free to move around. 
An engraving of the reverse side of a silver penny from William's reign.
They were villiens, bordars, cottars and serfs. A villien offered agricultural services to his lord, a bordar was a smallholder who farmed on the edge of a settlement, a cottar was a cottager and a serf was an agricultural labourer. In return the lord of the manor was supposed to protect and help them. The other major landowner was the church and bishops and abbots could be tenants in chief or lesser tenants.

As the country settled down under Norman rule, William wanted to ensure that he received all of the taxes that were owed to him. This was very complex because the country had been divided into a large number of tax paying manors. The solution was the Domesday Book and work on it began in 1085 when teams of investigators toured the country. The information gathered from all over the country was collated into the book at Winchester and from this precise taxes could be calculated.

When a team of investigators arrived in an area they would meet with the landowner, the local priest and a group of older villagers. The information gathered was as follows:

The name of each tenant-in-chief, tenant and under-tenant, the total amount of land, the amount of land under cultivation, the amount of woodland, the number of people, animals and ploughs and any fishponds or mills.

The Domesday Book was not completed until after King William’s death on 9th September 1087. Today it is the most important source of information about village life in the Middle Ages.

The entries for Penn are as follows:

Upper Penn, called “Penna”:

William Fitzansculph holds Upper Penn. There are 5 hides. Robert (his vassal) holds it from him. Earl Algar held it. There is land for 6 ploughs. In the lordship, 1 plough with one slave. There are 8 villagers and two smallholders with 1 plough. There is a mill worth 2 shillings. The value was and is 30 shillings.

Lower Penn, called “Penne”:

William Fitzansculph owns it. There are 3 hides. Gilbert (his vassal) holds it from him. Countess Godiva held them. There is land for 6 ploughs. In the lordship land for one. There are 6 villagers with one freeman. They have one and a half ploughs. There are four acres of meadow. Lower Penn is valued at twenty shillings for taxable purposes.  

A view of the 13th and 14th century keep at Dudley Castle from an old postcard.  The later castle is on the site of William Fitzansculph's home.

At that time Penn was no more than a tiny hamlet with no wealthy people living there. Upper Penn was a little larger and more valuable than Lower Penn. 

The mill mentioned in Upper Penn would be a watermill because windmills did not appear in England until the 12th century. The most logical place to find such a mill would have been at the bottom of Penn Common. So maybe there was an 11th century watermill near to the present day Wodehouse Mill.

The owner of Penn, William Fitzansculph was Ansculf’s son and would have inherited his father’s land and possessions on his death, which must have been sometime before 1085. Ansculf was in control of more than 80 manors, scattered across several counties and like his father William was based at Dudley Castle. Very little remains of the 11th century buildings, most of what we see today dates from the 14th century.

William Fitzansculph’s holdings included Amblecote, Aston, Birmingham, Bushbury, Chasepool, Dudley, Edgbaston, Enville, Erdington, Essington, Great Barr, Handsworth, Himley, Moseley, Newport Pagnell, Orton, Oxley, Pendeford, Perry Barr,  Sedgley, Seisdon, Trysull, Witton, Wombourne, and Upper Penn and Lower Penn.

William’s tenant at Upper Penn was Robert, who was also tenant at some of William’s other holdings, including Bushbury, Ettingshall, Moseley and Oxley. His tenant at Lower Penn was Gilbert.

By the end of the 11th century Penn was firmly on the map as a small farming community, just as parts of it still are today.

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Medieval Penn