William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror visited Sarisberie (Old Sarum) at least twice. In 1070 he reviewed and paid off his army of soldiers who had invaded England four years earlier. (i)
In 1086, according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle:
"There all his counsellors came to him and the people occupying land who were of any account all over England whosesoever men they were. And they all bowed to him and became his men, and swore oaths of fealty to him, that they would remain faithful to him against all other men."
All the landholders ‘of any account’ would have included not only the king’s 170 tenants-in-chief, but at least some of their subtenants. Not only was this an act of homage on a scale unseen before either in William’s native Normandy or in England, but it also established a direct and strikingly novel bond between the king and these subtenants.
1086 was a period of crisis, when the Conqueror was facing revolt and invasion. William’s oath insisted that from then on, if one of the powerful men of the realm were to rebel against the Crown, the primary loyalty of his subtenants would be to the king rather than to their immediate master.
Old Sarum was the ideal ceremonial meeting place. Image (iii) The outer enclosure of the hilltop site could accommodate large numbers. Old Sarum also lay at a junction of six Roman roads, and the castle was second only to Winchester as a centre of royal government. This landmark event became known as 'The Oath of Sarum'.
The collation of the Domesday Book had taken place at Old Sarum and had been completed the previous year. It would therefore be fair to assume that a copy of it would have been presented to William during the ceremony at which all the principal landowners, the prelates, nobles, sheriffs and knights, swore their fealty to him.
Estimates vary as to how many people attended this Great Council or Oath of Salisbury. Historian Marc Morris puts the figure "well into four figures, and just possibly nudging towards five." (ii)
Looking at the peaceful hill-side today it is difficult to imagine such a massive crowd occupying it, if only for a few days.
(i) English Heritage www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/medieval-part-1/oath-of-sarum/ accessed 22 March 2017
(ii) Marc Morris, The Norman Conquest (First published 2013 Windmill Books) p319
(iii) Image of Old Sarum in Norman Times, one of a series by Peter Dunn copyright English Heritage, with permission.
Further reading on this website:
Bishop Osmund (later St Osmund) attended the presentation of the Domesday Book.