Burghal Hidage - List of Burhs

List of Burhs

This list shows the 33 burhs (with hidages) included in either or both of the 'A' and the 'B' groups of manuscripts as discussed by David Hill, in the order that they appear in all of the documents. Burhs that were probably added to the document group 'B' after Alfred's time are shown in bold.

Eorpeburnan 324
Hastings 500
Lewes 1300
Burpham 720
Chichester 1500
Portchester 500
Southampton 150
Winchester 2400
Wilton 1400
Chisbury 700
Shaftesbury 700
Twynam (now called Christchurch, Dorset) 470
Wareham 1600
Bridport 760
Exeter 734
Halwell 300
Lydford 140
Pilton 360
Watchet 513
Axbridge 400
Lyng 100
Langport 600
Bath 1000
Malmesbury 1200
Cricklade 1500
Oxford 1400
Wallingford 2400
Buckingham 1600
Sashes 1000
Eashing 600
Southwark 1800
Worcester 1200
Warwick 2400

The forensic and palaeographic analysis by Hill (The Burghal Hidage, the establishment of a text in Medieval archaeology vol XIII 1969) of the seven variant manuscripts demonstrates that there were probably two slightly differing originals from which they ultimately derive; ‘A’ a transcript by the Tudor antiquarian Nowell, in 1562 (copied from an original, ‘Cotton Otto’ of ca1025, lost 150 years later); and ‘B’ the older original manuscripts (‘Hill B2 - B7’ copied between ca1210 and ca1330) which can be paired into three groups sharing similarities, there are several discrepancies between them all. (there is another antiquarian copy, Gale’s of 1691, which seems to mix, match and mistranscribe elements of Hill ‘B3’ and ‘A’.) Most notably, despite the variants of ‘missing’ burh all of the lists keep to the same order in reciting the burh. To summarise his argument:

All of the ‘B’ lists miss Burpham, Wareham and Bridport; one pair of the ‘B’ lists also miss Hastings and Lewes; another pair of the ‘B’ lists miss Chichester and Portchester;

Whereas ‘A’ misses Barnstaple and Shaftesbury; however, the reference to Barnstaple in the ‘B’ lists is actually a gloss “Barnstaple that is Pilton”, i.e. they are same place, so the copyist of the ‘A/Otto’ list simply dropped the gloss.

Some scholars have suggested that the archetype of ‘B’ group predates the ‘A’ group archetype because of this and would also propose that the same ‘A’ copyist misunderstood the original list’s reference to Shaftesbury, in the document he copied (this gives its hidage assessment as following that of Chisbury as “Chisbury is 700; and Shaftesbury likewise.” as in the ‘B’ archetype, i.e. the original meant the latter burh had 700 hides assigned, but the copyist of ‘A’ thought it meant that Chisbury was doing duty for Shaftesbury so dropped it, there is no reason for the scribe to have known where either town was) this has an implication for Hill’s discussion of the total hidage figure referred to in the ‘B’ lists.

Although, therefore, none of the texts are original to the creation of the defensive system described they are sufficiently similar to show that ultimately they do derive from one source. Hill shows how all of the recensions can be used to correct each other or at least help us understand how errors, especially in the hidage numbers, were mistranscribed in the copying process. Hill argues that these errors are not conflicts of facts or derive from differing lists, but simply errors in copying from a common source; it is possible to see that this was because lines of the text were being missed. However, I would add that, as noted above, as the ‘B’ recensions do not list Burpham, Wareham and Bridport, it is likely that their common archetype must have missed them also. Yet it too must have contained the ‘grand total’ sentence at the end which is flatly contradicted by the hidages enumerated.

Taking these ‘copying’ errors into account there is one main textual difference between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ variants, the final statements at the close of the lists:-

The Burghal Hidage - The earliest manuscript of the BH. The entry for ‘Southwark - 1800 Hides’ is highlighted at fourth row from the bottom. ‘A’ ends with a formulaic method of how by knowing the length of walls one can calculate how many hides are required to be assigned to a burh:-“For the maintenance and defence of an acre’s breadth of wall sixteen hides are required. If every hide is represented by one man, then every pole of wall can be manned by four men. Then for the maintenance of twenty poles of wall eighty hides are required ... If the circuit is greater, the additional amount can easily be deduced from this account, for 160 men are always required for 1 furlong, then every pole of wall is manned by 4 men”. Now Hill argues that this is back to front, the hidage assessment for a burh should provide a wall-length. He advances his argument to propose that the intention of the BH document is to provide a method of doing so not for Wessex but for the newly created burh in the reconquered ‘shires’ of Mercia. Perhaps this is what that formula means attached to ‘A’. Yet if we regard the archetype of ‘B’ as earlier than the end text of this says as follows: “That is all 27 and 70 which belong to it; and 30 to the West Saxons. And to Worcester 1200 hides. To Warwick four and 2400 hides”

One of the ‘B’ variants (Hill ‘6’) has a copyist’s gloss which proposes a meaning of ‘27,000 and 70 hides’ to make sense of the “27 and 70” reference: the “belong to it” refers to the entire list enumerated, a grand total. However, none of the ‘B’ lists can give us that total as they miss out between three and five burh. Therefore the archetype of ‘B’ must have included these, as did that of ‘A’. However, if we, as Hill, do some recalculating of the mistranscriptions and supply the missing burh figures from ‘A’ then the ‘restored’ total would be 28,671. Hill then turns to the second part of the final sentence “and 30 to the West Saxons”, this too is glossed as ‘30,000’ by the copyist ‘6’ so that it seems to refer to hides; but Hill proposes that it refers to the 30 burh; there are in fact 31 of these in the combined lists, but he then proposes that Buckingham (at 1600 hides) is in fact Mercian, i.e. not of “the West Saxons”, so is not included in the grand total (adjusted total 27,071) seemingly spot on for the final ‘B’ sentence/statement.

Therefore ‘A’ and ‘B’ were copied from the same archetype/s as they agree on the grand total (less 1600 for Buckingham), yet differ only in their final sentence/statements as to what the figures demonstrate, a formula for manpower or a total of hidage. This is important because it evidentially contradicts any proposal that the recensions had burh added or subtracted to reflect ‘new’ or ‘abandoned’ burh. . The ‘B’ archetype is more likely to be closer to the ultimate source which would be an ‘exchequer/ treasury’ document. ‘A’/ Cotton-Otto would have been prepared from it to perform the function Hill proposes, the burh/ shiring of the reconquered areas. But, surely the final sentence/statement of ‘B’ “And to Worcester 1200 hides. To Warwick four and 2400 hides” which Hill proposes as being about the proposed organisation of the new Mercian ‘shires’ should actually, if it meant such, would actually be more congruent if appended to the formulae following ‘A’.

Read more about this topic:  Burghal Hidage

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