The likely date for the death of Maigno is 1114 when Mainfelin came in to his inheritance. Maigno lived to a good age, possibly to his mid-seventies. As I have said before, I think we can question the assumption made by some earlier historians that Mainfelin was Magno’s son. He may indeed have been, perhaps born to a younger wife, or he may have been a grandson. The spread of dates between Maigno’s probable birth (1042) and Mainfelin’s probable birth (1090) should at least raise the question.
At any rate Mainfelin was Maigno’s heir. We know two facts about Mainfelin: he was appointed Sherrif in 1125 and he founded Bradwell Priory in 1155. From this latter fact it has been inferred that he ws a very devout man. The Bradwell Priory was never very rich but it did survive until the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s time. It is thought that Mainfelin died shortly after the foundation.
In the normal course of events Mainfelin could be presumed to have several sons and daughters, but we only know of one, his heir Hamon. Since Hamon is referred to as the son of Mainfelin in documents we are on surer ground in claiming him to be his son. He was born circa 1120 and died circa 1184. The dates would indicate that he may not have been Mainfelin’s first born son. Information, such as we have, comes from a 1180 document from the Luffield Priory:
The post Norman Conquest period is the beginning of recorded history for Wolverton Manor, as it was for so many parts of England. For this we can thank William’s taxation register known as the Domesday Book.
The manor was in the hands of three Saxon thegns. They were dispossessed and the whole manor, as well as various other estates in Buckinghamshire were given to a man known as Maigno, which in Old French meant “great” or “big”. Modern French would use “grand’. We could perhaps think of him as Magnus.
From the grant of land he was clearly an important member of William’s invading army and must have contributed a number of troops. His landholding in 1086 was assessed at providing 15 knights under his feudal obligations to the crown, which probably meant that each knight would bring a number of foot soldiers – which may have added up to more than a hundred men.
Maigno chose Wolverton as his centre. He may have liked the naturally commanding position above the River Ouse where Holy Trinity Church now stands and where he built his castle. It is possible that he saw its possibilities when he came through Buckinghamshire with William’s invasion in 1066. From Hastings, the army marched north, crossed the Thames at Wallingford, and continued to Wolverton and Hanslope, generally laying waste, before they turned south to London.
We know little about Maigno. We could estimate his birth as circa 1040 – which would have made him about 25 when he invaded England. He might have been a younger son attracted by the opportunity of gaining land through invasion. Who he married and when, we don’t know. We don’t know how many children he had. His heir was called Mainfelin and it is not at all clear whether he was a son or a grandson.
Maigno’s dates are an estimated 1040 to 1114 – a long life certainly. Mainfelin’s dates are 1090 to 1155, again a long life, but this takes us through 115 years in two generations – possible, but a bit of a stretch. Some historians have accepted Mainfelin as Maigno’s son and he may well have been a late son born when Maigno was 50, but I think we should be open to the possibility that he may have been a grandson.
One of the great “what if” questions of English history relates to the Norman Conquest of 1066. The outcome of Harold’s engagement with William hung by little more than a Bayeux tapestry thread and could have gone either way. In the end William was the lucky one and with Harold dead the English lacked the leadership to withstand William’s eventual triumph. Would English history have turned out differently. I suspect it would and this is apparent in the microcosm of the Wolverton Manor.
At the time of the conquest it was in the hands of three thegns Godwin, Tori and Alvric. After the conquest the whole manor was under the control of one man. And this was repeated across the country. It is estimated that in the last days of Anglo Saxon England there were about 4000 thegns. William replaced all these with fewer than 200 lords of his own.
Anglo Saxon England was in many ways a more equal society. I don’t want to use the word democratic because it does not apply in any modern sense but people then did have more of a voice in community affairs. The council, witan, was a feature at all levels of society, and, as can be seen in this Wolverton example, the presence of three thegns within the manor meant that no one of them could become too powerful. The Norman centralization of power was the significant revolution of 1066 and has had its long term impact to this day. The Normans largely married amongst themselves and held themselves a class apart from the natives they had subjugated. In my view this is the origin of our English obsession with upper and lower classes – not a feature of Anglo Saxon society.