The Origins of King’s Lynn? Control of Wealth on the Wash Prior to the Norman Conquest

The Origins of King’s Lynn? Control of Wealth on the Wash Prior to the Norman Conquest

Hutcheson, A.R.J.

Medieval Archaeology, 50, (2006)


This paper investigates the archaeology and history of ‘productive’ sites, estate centres and towns between A.D. 600 and 1100 in north-western East Anglia. Whilst it concentrates on a specific sub-region (NW. Norfolk), an argument is developed on the nature of the relationship between archaeological assemblages and administrative structures that can be applied more widely for this period. In particular, the nature of ‘productive’ sites is discussed, and it is suggested that these places were centres of estate administration and tax collection. The later history of ‘productive’ sites in western Norfolk is then examined, focusing on the effect that the Viking wars and subsequent (short-lived) Danish rule may have had on them. How this background may have affected the decision by Herbert de Losinga (first Bishop of Norwich) to site a priory, port and new town at Lynn is then explored.

The historical date of birth of the town of King’s Lynn is usually set at 1090, when Herbert de Losinga, Bishop of Thetford, established the priory of St Margaret at Lena (Bishop’s Lynn, later King’s Lynn) on the NW coast of Norfolk. Through creating the monastery and its attached market, Losinga was setting out to control wealth at the opening of the Wash, a critical centre for communications and trade, and it seems he may have utilised existing economic arrangements to marshal resources for the sustenance of the priory. By 1300, the development of King’s Lynn reflected exceptional success and growth. Many commentators on the early history of Lynn take 1090 as the point of the town’s inception as a de novo settlement of the early Norman Period.

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