Stagsden in 1086
Domesday Book was commissioned by William the Conqueror (1066-1087) at Christmas 1085. It was designed to show who held every piece of land in the newly conquered Kingdom of England. It was known colloquially as the Domesday Book because it was seen as being as final as the Last Judgement and as difficult to conceal things from. The book does not cover the whole country - Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland, and Westmorland were omitted and London and Winchester likewise, along with some other towns. A separate book, called Little Domesday covered the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk and, despite its name, it is actually bigger and more detailed than the Great Domesday Book containing the other counties.
Domesday Book records four holdings in Stagsden in 1086. One of these was held by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror, who became Earl of Kent in 1067 and acted as regent in England during the Conqueror's absences. He held more land in England than anyone except the king though forced to return many of these following a trial for fraud in 1076. He was imprisoned between 1082 and 1087 for planning to lead a military expedition to Italy. He was released by William on his deathbed and rebelled against William II (1087-1100) in 1088 in favour of William's older brother Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy. The rebellion failed and William banished Odo from England. He died in 1097 on his way to the Holy Land with the First Crusade. He held three hides, three virgates in Stagsden with a man named Herbert, son of Ivo as his tenant. The holding had twelve villagers and seven smallholders as well as woodland for forty pigs. It had been held by twelve freemen under King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), perhaps they and their heirs were the twelve villagers of 1086. In 1066 the land had been worth £12 but this had decreased to £9 when Odo acquired it and still further to £7 in 1086.
It is suggested by historians that the reason for the general lowering of the value of manors in the area is accounted for by William I's armies coming through Bedfordshire on their way to put down rebellions in the north. They would have lived off the land and no doubt have committed certain acts of vandalism in what was, to them, still alien, even enemy, territory.
Count Eustace of Boulogne held one virgate in Stagsden and had, as his tenant "an Englishman, Godwy", it was evidently sufficiently unusual for an Englishman to still hold land that it should thus be remarked upon. In 1066 the land had been worth ten shillings, this had declined to five shillings when Eustace acquired it and was now only worth two shillings, perhaps that is why an Englishman was allowed to tenant it.
Hugh de Beauchamp held much land in the county and, indeed, would later be made Baron of Bedford. He had five hides in Stagsden which he held without a tenant. His holding had twelve villagers, eight smallholders and two slaves. There was also woodland for a hundred pigs. There was also "a park for woodland beasts". In 1066 "two of King Edward's men and a man of Earl Harold's held this manor". It had then been worth a hundred shillings. When Hugha acquired the property it was worth forty shillings but this value had risen to its 1066 value by 1086.
The other landowner in Stagsden was Countess Judith. She was King William's niece and had been married to Earl Waltheof, who had rebelled twice against the Conqueror and eventually paid for it with his head. She had one hide, tenanted by a man named Hugh, who may be Hugh de Beauchamp, indicating that his holding bordered Judith's. The holding had two villagers and two smallholders as well as a mil lworth forty shillings and a hundred eels, Domesday Book notes: "it is of the Countess' Holding, but it does not lie in this land". Perhaps it lay on Hugh de Beauchamp's estate. In 1066 Godwin, a man of Earl Harold (the King Harold of 1066) held the land when it was worth ten shillings. By the time Judith acquired the land it had, unusually, doubled in value and remained at this level in 1066.
It will be seen that Stagsden is recorded as containing twenty six villagers, seventeen smallholders and two slaves. Most of these forty five man would have had families, suggesting a total population of just under two hundred, making it a significant size of settlement for its time.