From John Speed, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland described, 1620. Chapter XVII. The following text replicates the text formatting (ie: italics, spelling errors) from the original but I have not reproduced the line breaks or page breaks.
Northfolke is an Iland inclining to an ovall forme, closed on the South part with the Rivers of Waveney and the lesser Ouse, which divides it from Suffolke. On the East and North with the Germane Ocean; on the West toward Cambridge-shire, with some branches of the greater Ouse; toward Lincoln-shire with that part of the Neue which passeth from Wisbitch into the Washet.
It containeth in length (from Yarmouth to Wisbitch) about fiftie miles. In Breadth (from Thetford to Wels) about thirtie. the whole Circuit is about two hundred fortie two miles.
The Name ariset from the situation of the people, who being the Norther-most of the Kingdome of East-Angles, are therefore called the Northfolke, as the Souther-most Southfolke.
The Ayre is sharpe and piercing, especially in the Champion and neere the Sea: therefore it delaieth the Spring and Haruest, the situation of the Country inclining thereto, as being vnder the 53 degrees of Latitude.
The Soile diuers: about the Townes commonly good; as Clay, Chalke, or fat earth, well watered, and with some wood: vpward to the Heaths naed, dry and barren: Marsland and Flegg exceeding rich; but Marsland properly for Pasture, Flegg for Corne.
( 2 ) The parts from Thetford to Burnham, and thence Westward, as also along the Coast, be counted Champion: the rest ( as better furnished with woods) Woodland. The Champion aboundeth with Corne, Sheepe, and Conies [hares, wild rabbits], and herein the barren Heaths (as the prouidence of our Ancestors hath of old disposed them ) are very profitable. For on them principally lie our Fould courses called of
[the remaining text is as reproduced by Early English Books Online from Proquest]
of the Saxons (whose institution they therefore seeme to be) Paldyoeun, that is, Libertie of fold or fouldage. These Heaths by the Compasture of the sheepe (which we call Tath:) are made so rich with Corne, that when they fall to be sowne, they commonly match the fruitfullest grounds in other Countries and laid againe, doe long after yeeld a sweeter and more plentifull feed for sheepe: so that each of them maintaine other, and are the chiefest wealth of our Country. The Woodland (fitter for grasse) is maintained chiefly by feeding of Cattell, yet well stored with Corne and Sheepe.
The Coast is fortunate in Fish▪ and hath many good Harbours, whereof Lenn and Yarmouth be the mother-ports, and of great traffique: Wels and Blakeney next in estimation.
The whole Countie aboundeth with Riuers and pleasant Springs, of which the Ouse is chiefest, by whose plentifull branches, the Isle of Fly, the Townes and Shires of Cambridge, Humington, and the Countie of Suffolke vent and receiue Commodities. The next is Hierus or Yere, passing from Norwich to Yarmouth, where it receiueth the Bure comming from Aylsham, both of them of great seruice for water-carriages, but very notable for their plenty of 〈◊〉 for some one man out of an hold vpon the Bure, hath drawne vp ordinarily once a yeare, betweene two Nets, about fiue or six score busness of Fish at one draught. The Waueney and the lesser Ouse are also Nauigable and of great vse. The residue I omit.
(3) I he people were anciently called ICENI, as they also of Suffolke, Cambridge-shire, and Huntington-shire, and supposed to be of them whom Caesar nameth Cenimagni; Ptolemie, Simeni; some T•gens. Their manners were likely to be as the rest of the Britaines, barbarous at those times, as appeareth by Caesar and Tacitus, Neither can I otherwise commend their Successors the Saxons: for so also their owne Countryman Ethelwerd termeth them. Since the entry of the Normans, they haue beene accounted ciuill and ingenious, apt to good Letters, adorning Religion with more Churches and Monasteries, then any Shire of England, and the Lawes and Seats of Iustice (for many ages) with some excellent men; from whom most of our chiefe Families, and some of the greatest Nobility of the Kingdome, haue taken aduancement And herein is Northfolke fortunate, that as Crete boasted of an hundred Cities, so may she of an hundred Families of Gentlemen, neuer yet attainted of high Treason. How the gouernment of this Country was about Caesars time, is vncertaine, but (agreeable no doubt to the rest of the Britaines) vnder some peculiar Toparch or Regulus, as Tacitus termeth him. The latter Romans held it by two Garrisons, one at Gariannum neere Yarmouth; the other at Branedunum, now called Brancastre, both of horse, and commanded by the Comes Maritims Tractus, as Marcellinus calleth him, termed after Comes Littoris Saexonici Vpon the entry of the Saxons, this Countie with Suffolke fell in the portion of the Angles, and about the yeare fiue hundred sixtie one, were together erected into a Kingdome by Vffa, of whom the succeeding Kings were tituled Vffines. But hauing suffred many Tempests of Fortune, it was in the yeare 870. vtterly wasted and extinct by Hungar and Hubba the Danes, who ouerthrew the vertuous King Edmund about Thetford, and after martyred him at S. Edmundsbury. Yet they did not long enioy it: for King Edward shortly recouered it from them, and annexed it to his other Kingdomes. The Danes notwithstanding inhabited abundantly in these parts, so that many of our Townes were founded by them, and a great part of our people and Gentry are risen out of their bloud.
(4) This Kingdome of East-Angles was after allotted to an Earledome of that name by William the Conquerour, who made Radulph a Britaine, marying his kinswoman, Earle thereof; but gaue the greatest parts of this Countie about Wimondham, Keninghall, Lenn, Buruham, Fulmerstone, &c. to W. de Albany, Pincernae, and W de Warranna Forrestario, who to strengthen themselues (according to the vse of that time) with the homage and seruice of many tenants, diuided large portions of the same amongst their friends and followers; so that most of the Manours and Lands in the parts aforesaid, were in those dayes either mediately or immediately holden of one of them. And as Northfolke and Suffolke were first vnited in a Kingdome, then in an Earledome, so they continued vnited in the Sheriffe-wicke till about the fifteenth yeare of Queene Elizabeth.
(5) The Townes here are commonly well built, and populous; three of them being of that worth and qualitie, as no one Shire of England hath the like, Norwich, Lenn, and Yarmouth: to which for ancient reputation (as hauing beene a seat of the Kings of East-Angles) I may adde Thetford, knowne to Antonius, Ptolemie, and elder ages, by the name of Sitemagus, when the other three were yet in their infancie, and of no esteeme: for I accept not the Relations of the Antiquitie and State of Norwich in the time of the Britaine and Saxons, though Alexander Neuil hath well graced them. Her very name abridgeth her Antiquitie, as hauing no other in Histories but Norwich, which is meere Saxon or Danish, and signifieth the North-Towne or Castle. It seemeth to haue risen out of the decay of her neighbour Vinta, now called Castor, and as M. Cambden noteth, not to haue beene of mar•• before the entry of the Danes, who in the yeare 1004. vnder Sweno their Captaine, first sackt, and then burnt it, euen in her infancie▪ Yet in the dayes of Edward the Confessor it recouered 1320. Burgesset. But maintaining the cause of Earle Radulph aforesaid against the Conquerour, they were by famine and sword wasted to 560 at which time the Earle escaping by ship, his wife vpon composition yeelded the Castle, and followed 〈◊〉 William Rusu• time it was growne famous for Merchandise and concourse of people; so that Herbert then translating the Bishopricke from Thetford thither, made each of them an ornament to other. In varietie of times it felt much varietie of Fortune: By fire in Anno 1508. By extreame plagues, whereof one in An. 1348. was so outragious, as 17104. are reported to haue died thereof betweene the Calends of Ianuary and of Iuly. By misery of warre, as sacked and spoyled by the Earle of Flaunders and Hugh Big•d, Anno 1174. In yeelding to Lewis the French, against their naturall Lord King Iohn, Anno 1216. By the disinherited Barons, An. 1266. By tumult and insurrection betweene the Citizens and Church-men: once about the yeare 1265.
which if Henry the third had not come in person to appease, the Citie was in hazard to be ruined: The second time in Anno 1446. for which the Major was deposed, and their Liberties for a while selfed. In Edward the sixths time, by Ketts rebellion, whose fury chiefly raged against this Citie. Since this it hath flourished with the blessings of Peace, Plentie, Wealth and Honour: so that Alxander Neu• doubteth not to preferre it aboue all the Cities of England, except London. It is situate vpon the Riuer Hierus, in a 〈◊〉 valley, but on using ground, hauing on the East the Hilles and Heath called Mussold for Most-would, as I take it. In the 17 yeare of King Stephen it was new founded, and made a Corporation▪ In Edward the firsts time, closed with a same Wall, •auing on a part that the Riuer defendeth. First gouerned by foure Bayliffes; then by Henry the fourth in An 1403. erected into a Majoraltie and County; the limits whereof now extend to Eatonb••ge▪ At this present it hath about thirtie Parishes, but in ancient time had many more.
(6) Lenn [now King's Lynn] hauing beene an ancient Borrough vnder the Gouernment of a Bayliffe or Reue, called Praepositus, was by King Iohn in the sixt yeare of his Raigne made Liber Burgus, and (besides the gift of his memorable Cup, which to this day honoureth this Corporation) endowed with diuers faire Liberties. King Henry the third in the 17 yeare of his Raigne (in recompence of their seruice against the out-lawed Barons in the Isle of Ely) enlarged their Charter, and granted them further, to choose a Major Loco Prapositi: vnto whom King Henry the Eight, in the sixteenth yeare of his Raigne, added twelue Aldermen, a Recorder, and other Officers, and the bearing of a sword before the Major. But the Towne comming after to the same King, he in the twentie-ninth of his Raigne, changed their name, from Mator & Burge•ses Lenn Episcopi, to Mator & Burge•ses Lenn Regis.
(7) Yarmouth is the Key of the Coast, named and seated by the mouth of the Riuer Yere. Begun in the time of the V•nes, and by small accessions growing populous, made a Corporation vnder two Bayliffes by King Henry the third▪ and by his Charter, about the fifteenth yeare of his Raigne, walled It▪ It is an ancient member of the Ci•que Ports, very well built and fortified, hauing onely one Church (but faire and large) founded by Bishope Herbert, in William Rufus dayes. It maintaineth a Peere against the Sea, at the yearely charge of fiue hundred pound, or thereabout: yet hath it no possessions, as other Corporations, but like the children of Aeol•• and Thetis: Maria & 4. ventos, as an Inquisitor findeth An. 10. Hen 3. There is yearely in September the worthiest. Herring-fishing in Europe, which draweth great concourse of people, and maketh the Towne much the richer all the yeare, but very vnsauoury for the time. The Inhabitants are so curteous, as they haue long held a custome to feast all persons of worth, repairing to their Tovvne.
(8) The Bishopricke of Norwich had first hereseat at Dunwich in Suffolke, and was there begun by Foelix, who conuerted this Countie, and the East-Angles) to the Faith. Being brought out of Burgundie by Sigeber• (the first Christian King of the East-Angles) he landed at Babingley by Lenn, and there builded the first Church of these Countries, which in his memory, is at this day called by his Name. The second he built at Shar••bourn then of wood, and therefore called Stock-Chappell. After Foelix and three of his Successors, this Bishopricke was diuided into two Sees: the one with eleuen Bishops in succession, continuing at Dunwich; the other with twelue at Elmham in Norfolke. Then vnited againe in the time of King Edwyn, the entire See for twelue other Bishops remained at Elmham, and in the Conquerours time was by his Chaplaine Arfastus (being the thirteenth) translated to Thetford, from thence by Herbert (his next Successor saue one) bought of W. Rusus for 1900. pounds, and brought to Norwich. This Herbert (surnamed Losinga a Norman) builded the Cathedrall Church there, and endowed it with large possessions. Not far from thence he also builded another Church to S. Leonard, a third at Elmham, a fourth at Lenn, (S. Margarets, a very faire one) and the fifth at Yarmouth before mentioned. By the Cathedrall Church he builded a Palace for the Bishops, and founded the Priory there (now conuerted to Deane and Chapter) and another Priory at Thetford. Since his time the Bishops See hath immoueably remained at Norwich, but the ancient Possession are seuered from it, and in lieu thereof the Abbey and Lands of S Benedict of Holme annexed to it. The Commodities of this Countie I haue contained in these four Verses.
Ingenio & populi cultu Norfolcia clari est;
Hinc fluvijs, illine Insula clausa mari;
Qua ratis, & vellus, frumenta, cuniculus, agnus.
Lac scatet, & pisces, pabula, mella, crocus.
This Description of Northfolke, I reciued from the Right Worshipfull, Sir HENRY SPELMAN Knight.