Judith of Lens, Countess of Huntingdon 1054 to 1086-1090
Great Paxtonians

A series of articles about people who have lived in Great Paxton or have a connection with the village.

Judith was born in 1054 (maybe 1055) in Lens, northern France, a Norman noblewoman of the House of Capet, her uncle William would become the conqueror of England in 1066. (Arms of the Kingdom of France in the time of the House of Capet pictured right.)

At the age of 15 or 16 in 1070, she married 20 year old Earl Waltheof of Huntingdon and Northumbria at Artois, France following which she held properties in 10 counties in the Midlands and East Anglia most of these apparently gifts from her uncle the now King of England following the Norman Conquest. Before this some of these properties had been held by Earl Waltheof  who was left with only one manor in his own name. The marriage was described as being arranged by William "to strengthen the bonds of friendship". Waltheof was a Saxon Earl who had not fought against William at the Battle of Hastings, he was a useful link to the people of William’s new kingdom and the marriage would have been seen as a way to keep him loyal.

Pachstone as Great Paxton was then known was one of the manors that were given to Judith, it had previously belonged to King Edward the Confessor as last noted in 1066. Judith was recorded in the Domesday book in 1086 as "Judith the Countess", the title of Countess of Huntingdon being one of those bestowed upon her, though Huntingdon itself was owned by King William.

Each possession of land that comprised a Manor had an owner or "Tenant in Chief" (holding the land under some form of tenure from the king) and a "Lord", sometimes these were the same person, sometimes two different people with the Lord renting the manor from the owner and overseeing its management. It was unusual at the time for a woman to be both owner and Lord but this is what Judith was at Pachstone and at over a third of her properties.

Judith owned a very substantial number of properties 193 in all, she was by far the female with the largest number of land holdings in the country and 22nd in all of England. The next largest number of properties owned by a woman was by “Hugh (son of Grip)’s wife (Hawise)” the 145th largest landowner in the country with 46 properties, a lady who only got third billing in her own description.

The Domesday Book lists the value of properties, of Judith’s 193, Pachstone is the 4th most valuable to her worth 33 pounds and 10 shillings per year. This was an important place with arable land, meadows, woodland, 3 water mills, a large church and a population of 240 to 350 people.

While there is no record (yet found) that Judith ever visited this village, there is circumstantial evidence that makes it almost inconceivable that she didn’t and points to the possibility of her living here from time to time moving around her properties as was common at the time rather than living in one place.

The top 22 most valuable properties owned by Judith

Judith's Properties
spreading land ownership across many places like this made it more difficult for a landowner to raise a coherent army

A Multiple Estate and a Royal Vill

We know that Great Paxton’s Saxon church was a “Minster” the building of which began around 1020. It must have already been a very significant and important place for such a church to be built here. A description of Pachstone the 11th century states “This was an Ancient Parish and a major Edwardian Manor”. The Edwardian period referred to being that of Edward the Confessor (b.1003 d.1066), so in the 1000's Great Paxton was already "Ancient".

A Multiple Estate was a common feature in the English landscape at this time, it consisted of a central caput from where the estate was managed, a minister church giving support to the whole estate and surrounding settlements specializing in particular crops. These large estates later fragmented into smaller units which became independent parishes. Such estates were usually owned by the king or an important monastery.

Pachstone had been owned by King Edward the Confessor prior to it coming into Judith’s hands. It was known to have three Berewicks which became Little Paxton, Toseland and one other sometimes thought to be Abbotsley though it could be the abandoned village of Boughton across the river at about the point where Bell Ford formed a crossing almost due West of the church. A berewick was an outlying settlement that didn't have it's own church. Great Paxton’s minster church is of sufficient age, size and imposing stone architecture to fit the pattern. When a Multiple Estate later fragmented the importance of the minster church diminished, Great Paxton’s church seems to have been at its height at or in the two centuries after completion, diminishing in physical size through re-modelling as well as social importance as the surrounding parishes gained their own churches.

A Royal Vill was a central settlement of a rural territory in Anglo Saxon England, it would be visited by the King and members of the royal household on regular circuits of their kingdoms. The Domesday "vill" was the smallest unit in the administrative system. A lack of long distance trade in foodstuffs meant everywhere had to be agriculturally self-sufficient. While Judith was not the monarch, she was the monarch's niece and a major land owner, she would have probably used the manors where she was Lord and Tenant in Chief while travelling around. As Pachstone was one of the most valuable of her properties and likely a Multiple Estate there seems a high probability that this may have been a Royal Vill used by Judith and her household when visting.


Judith and Waltheof

Judith had three children with her husband Earl Waltheof.

Waltheof was accused of treason against King William in 1075 in what was known as the Revolt of the Earls, he was imprisoned for almost a year after which he was beheaded on the 31st of May 1076 at St. Giles’s Hill, near Winchester, he was the last of the Saxon Earls. The accounts of Waltheof’s actual involvement vary, he may have been betrayed by Judith or he may not and he may have been completely innocent. His body was initially thrown in a ditch but was retrieved by supporters, Judith arranged for a honourable burial at Crowland Abbey near Peterborough.

Following Waltheof's execution William betrothed Judith to Simon I of St. Liz, 1st Earl of Northampton though she refused the marriage and fled the country to avoid William's anger leading to him confiscate all of her English estates temporarily before returning them later. Simon would go on to marry Judith’s eldest daughter Maud in 1090.

Judith founded Elstow Abbey in Bedfordshire around 1078, she also founded churches at Kempston and Hitchin. The parish of Sawtry Judith in Huntingdonshire is named after her, it is a deserted village part of the area of which has now been absorbed into Sawtry. Judith died in about 1090 at around age 35 in Fotheringay, Northamptonshire, England.

It is unknown where Judith lived following Waltheof’s death, there are several of her possessions that claim she lived there and of course they may all be correct to an extent if she was of the habit of regularly moving around.

Judith’s daughter Maud was widowed on the death of her husband Simon and married David I, King of Scots in 1113. As a result of this marriage, David acquired the Earldom of Huntingdon as well as a legitimate claim to a large part of England including Pachstone.

Great Paxton, A Vill - Still

Vills were the smallest unit in the Domesday administrative system, they were areas similar to a parish in the south or township in the north. In Cambridgeshire, Domesday vills are almost exactly mirrored by the civil parishes of the late nineteenth century, suggesting a continuous history of over a millennium. Great Paxton was historically part of Huntingdonshire but the structure here has also been retained in many places though the larger Royal Vill of Pachstone was fragmented into Great and Little Paxton, Toseland and a third unrecorded "berewick" which I believe to likely be the lost village of Boughton.

Pictures: Adelaide of Normandy, Judith’s mother (full length), Maud of Huntingdon, Judith’s daughter (half length), There are no pictures of Judith though these give an idea of what would been her style.