The reduction in the value of the manors may reflect the damage brought about by the harrying of the north.

Shortly after the compilation of the Domesday Book, Drogo’s wife disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Word spread that she had been poisoned by Drogo who, fearing that this news would soon reach William, rode off to London ahead of the news of the murder. On reaching the capital, he borrowed money from William (on the pretext of wishing to take his wife to Flanders) and immediately beat a hasty retreat to Flanders. With Drogo gone, the servants searched the castle and eventually found the body. When William learned the truth, he immediately sent orders for Drogo’s arrest but by then he was beyond William’s reach. The ghost of the murdered wife is reputed to haunt Castle Hill as the “lady in white”.

The Domesday Book

In 1086, the Domesday Book described Ellerby, then known as Alverdebi, Oubrough and Langthorpe thus (in translation from the original Latin):

In LANGTHORPE, Thor had 1 carucate of land to the geld, and there could be 1 plough.

In LITTLE HATFIELD, Redhe had  2 carucates of land 3 bovates to the geld, and there could be 2 ploughs. Now Walter has. Drogo has 1 plough there, and 8 villans and 7 villans with 2 ploughs and 4 acres of meadow. It is 1 league long and a half broad. TRE it was worth 50s.

In ELLERBY, Frani, Elaf, Man, Thorbiorn and Ramkel had 4 carucates of land to the geld and there could be 4 ploughs. Now Theobold, Drogo’s man, has 1 plough there; and 2 villans and 3 bordars and [there are] 20 acres of meadow. [It is] 1 league long and half broad. TRE worth 40s; now 10s.

“In OUBROUGH, Thorfridh had 2 carucates of land to the geld, and there could be 2 ploughs. Now Frumold, Drogo’s man, has 1 plough there; and 5 villans and 3 bordars with 1 plough, and 10 acres of meadow. [It is] half a league long and a half broad. TRE worth 30s; now 20s.”


BORDAR: A smallholder of the level of peasantry below the Villagers but above the Cottagers.

CARUCATE: Unit of land used in the Danelaw counties of England and comprised the area that a team of eight oxen could till in a year. It consisted of 8 borates or oxgangs.

GELD: Periodic tax first raised for the Danish wars, at a number of pence per hide or carucate.

TRE: Latin “tempora regis Edwardis” (in the time of King Edward the Confessor),  i.e. before 1066.

VILLAN / VILLAGER:The highest order of the peasant class. While having to work part time on the Lord’s land, they were allotted land to work on their own account.



Born in Normandy in 1028, and otherwise known as William the Bastard, William was of Viking descent. He married Matilda of Flanders in the 1050’s. William was a relative of  King Edward “the Confessor” who, William claimed, had named him as his successor. Harold Godwinson, another contender for the crown, claimed that Edward had named himself  as successor when on his deathbed. The outcome of this contention was the famous Battle of Hastings, in 1066. William triumphed and set about putting his followers in control of the country.

William Malet

Following his victory at Hastings, William appointed his companion William Malet (who he had given the task of burying King Harold’s body) as High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1068. His base was York castle and he was granted lands in Holderness, including Ellerby. However, there was considerable resistance in the area and in 1069 York was captured and burned by a combined force of English and Danish raiders. William Malet and his family were captured and taken prisoner. King William re-took the city and released William Malet, the latter being relieved of his northern duties but appointed as High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk.

The Harrying of the North

Frustrated by the resistance in Northumberland, William embarked on the “Harrying of the North”, a bloodthirsty act of genocide mounted during the winter of 1069-70. North and west of York inhabitants were murdered and their livestock killed. Houses and food stores were burned to prevent survivors of the massacre from surviving the winter. Finally, the land was salted to make it unproductive for years. Some survivors resorted to cannibalism.

Fortunately, Holderness escaped the worst of the devastation due to William recognising Beverley’s reputation as a holy place. However, a tradition has it that entering Beverley, the officer in charge of William’s army chased a man into the Minster churchyard. The officer fell from his horse, breaking his neck and landing in such a way that his head appeared to be facing backwards. It was said that superstitious William took this as a warning sign from St John of Beverley and turned his army northwards.

Drogo de Bevriere

In 1070, the marshy “isle” of Holderness (together with other considerable estates in other counties) was granted by William to Drogo de Bevrere as a reward for his part in the Battle of Hastings. Drogo was a Flemish adventurer and husband of one of William’s nieces. Drogo thus became the first Lord of Holderness, which then consisted of 87 manors. He apportioned manors to his loyal followers who held them for the King and Drogo. Drogo was a rapacious character who, in addition to the manors given to him by the king, was not above ”acquiring” others in the absence of their rightful owners (Ellerby was one such acquisition).

Holderness was subject to Danish attack and so, by 1086, Drogo had built Skipsea Castle, now regarded as one of the finest examples of a motte and bailey castle to survive in England. It was located to control the coast and the main landward approach to the peninsula, otherwise protected by the marshy valley of the river Hull. The castle motte was built on a glacial mound and it was surrounded by marshy land, possibly dammed to reduce drainage, which would have formed an effective moat. Drogo also had a manor house at Burstwick, which, together with Skipsea Castle, formed the seat of the Lords of Holderness.

The Normans (1)


V 2.2