Friday, August 21, 2015

Abbots and Kings – A brief history of West Hertfordshire

by R.J. Connor

St. Alban's Abbey
Hertfordshire has a rich history that stretches back thousands of years. It is no surprise considering its links to the capital. But despite its closeness with London, the county boasts an abundance of beautiful countryside. So it can be said, Herts has seen the best of both worlds. Among its jewels are an array of monasteries, castles and palaces, an abbey and even a town built by Templar Knights.

In past times, Hertfordshire was considered a gateway to the north. One of the main Roman roads passed through Hertfordshire. Starting in London, it enters the county to the west, passing through Bushey and Watford before entering the Chiltern Hills. Two important destinations lie on this road north, the first being Kings Langley Palace just to the south of the Hills and the second Berkhampstead Castle, nestled in the Hills themselves.

The palace was built by Queen Elinor wife of Edward I, the self-proclaimed 'Hammer of the Scots'. It was built on top, or around, what was an existing manor house that had been built many years before, probably dating back to the Roman times. Nothing of the palace remains today except a lone building that belonged to Kings Langley Priory. The priory was built by Edward II who grew up in Kings Langley in the gardens of the palace. It is here that he reburied his favourite, Piers Gaveston, who was executed on Blacklow Hill in 1312. His son Edward III moved his court there in 1349 when the Black Death was rife in London, and his son Edmund of Langley was born there; Edmund's body was later entombed in the Langley chapel at the church of All Saints situated at the bottom of the Hill.

Berkhampstead Castle
If Hertfordshire was a gateway, than Berkhampstead Castle was the key. This Norman motte and bailey castle was built by William the Conqueror, who considered it a strategic location after his victory at the Battle of Hastings. It was here that the Archbishop of York surrendered to him, and it was not long before it became the country’s administrative centre. Several Kings lived here, with many passing it on to their chancellors, and Edward III gave it to his son, the famed Black Prince. It was besieged by the French who later captured it during the Baronial wars in the reign of King John. But it was soon retaken by royal forces. The castle was known for its expansive hunting grounds.

To the east of the Roman road lied St Albans, a town dependent on its abbey, which has since received cathedral status. The abbey was built by the Normans on top of an earlier Saxon church which was destroyed in 586 and held a shrine and the remains of the great Roman martyr St Alban. The site is believed to be the spot where Alban was executed. The abbey has changed much over the years from a Norman to gothic style and has seen in its time 40 different abbots, the last of which was in 1539 when Henry VIII brought about the dissolution of the monasteries. But despite its unceremonious downfall, at its height the lands belonging to the abbey far outstretched that of its own borders and most of the Hundred of Cashio belonged to the abbey.

Kings Langley Priory
The Liberty of St Albans, as the abbots’ land was often referred to, held the laws and customs of any other independent state and was for greater purposes a county within a county. In fact all we need do is look at the village of Langley. Split in two long ago, the west side of the village became known as Kings Langley, thanks to the presence of the royal palace. The east side however, which fell into the domain of the abbot, became known as Abbots Langley. So much was the rivalry between king and abbot that both had churches built facing each other on adjacent hills.

Despite this dual of ecclesiastical and royal power, the county seat of Hertfordshire, the town of Hertford, actually lay to the east of the shire. It had its own castle, but it was very rare that an earl of Hertford would reside here. In truth the Earl of Hertford was usually a subsidiary title for other earls, including at times the earls of Essex. But with half the land belonging to church and palace, there wasn’t much left for the earl. It was common knowledge where the power in Hertfordshire lay, and since the time of the Normans, it was reserved for abbots and kings.


R.J. Connor is a researcher, writer and historian. He has a degree in Writing Contemporary Fiction which he obtained from Southampton Solent University and since his graduation, he has spent his time writing Historical Fiction. He has a sincere fondness for all things historical but what really enchants him is the barbaric yet romantic period known as the Middle Ages. He is the author of the medieval fiction novel Mercenary, and he lives in Hertfordshire, UK

Richard Longsword is a Mercenary, but this time it’s not for money, this time it’s for revenge.

By day he works the desolate orange groves but by night he is in the paid servitude of the Grand Duke of Gandia, serving as captain of the Guardians of Guadalest, an elite group of warrior knights who defend the fortress of Guadalest.

When the fort is attacked by men who claim to be enemies of Richard's father, it threatens to spiral into a whirlwind of events that will change his life forever. He is left with no choice but to embark on a perilous journey to not only uncover the truth but to save the lives of his family.

A tale of love, loss and ultimate betrayal.



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