People, Places, Dates

History and Archaeology are full of important people, places and dates. Here are some of the most important people, places and dates in the History of Essex.
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Famous People

The Knights Templar

The Knights Templar were an order of warrior monks officially founded in 1118 by Hugues de Payns after the successful campaign to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem. They were originally known as the "Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon," and their stated purpose was to protect Christian travellers or “pilgrims” to the Holy Land.

The organization was known for being ferocious in battle and it acquired, primarily through donations, vast holdings of land all over Europe, particularly in France. It also accumulated enormous wealth during the time of the crusades. In Essex, significant amounts of land were donated to the order in 1137, including their headquarters at Cressing Temple.

In 1307 all the Knights Templar were apparently arrested by the bailiffs of the King Philip IV of France,. There is no evidence of struggle or protest. The Knights were imprisoned, tortured, and forced to confess to numerous crimes and religious heresies, and were then offered a choice - to recant (admit regret for their actions) or die. The Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, refused to recant and was burnt at the stake in 1312, effectively ending the Knights Templar. The Order’s lands in Essex were transferred to another Order, the Knights Hospitallers.

Important Places

Cressing Temple

Cressing Temple is a very important Medieval site. It used to be owned by the Knights Templar,.. There are two large barns on the site that date from the 13th century; you can also see where there used to be a chapel for the knights to worship in. After the Knights Templar were disbanded, the site passed to their sister order, the Knights Hospitallers.

Cressing was also the site of a Romano-British settlement, and archaeologists have uncovered, among other things, a decapitated skeleton from this period under where the garden now sits.

Important Events

The Norman Invasion

In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated the Britons, under King Harold, at Battle, near Hastings. Harold was killed, and the Norman invasion began. The Normans, like the Romans before them, embarked on a programme of military building, using their characteristic military form – the castle.

The Normans came from Normandy, in France, and for a long while France and England were united as a single kingdom under Norman rule, and French was the main language of the court.


The Peasants Revolt

The Peasants’ Revolt began in 1381 in Essex, when locals in Fobbing reacted to an over zealous tax collector. The revolt soon spread to neighbouring counties including Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk and Hertfordshire, and saw armed bands of villagers attacking manors and religious houses.

The peasants’ main complaint was the new poll tax – three times higher than the previous year, it taxed rich and poor at the same rate. However, they also wished for an abolition of serfdom. The plagues of 1348-9 had decimated the population, but Parliament had legislated to protect landowners from rising labour costs – so the workers were still being paid the same and were unable to move around to find better conditions. This issue led to revolts both before and after 1381.

The rebels of Essex and Kent marched on London to present their demands directly to the young king Richard II. He met each in turn and agreed to their demands, but the leader of the Kentish rebels, Wat Tyler, gave some insult and he was pulled from his horse and killed. Open rebellion was dissuaded by the King, however, and the rebels left peaceably enough – having caused some damage to the rich houses and people of the capital.

After the rebellion was over, the King went back on his word and failed to meet the peasants’ demands. He also revoked the pardons he had issued to the rebel leaders, and many of the rebels were executed. Punishment was harsher in Essex than elsewhere, but no further poll tax was imposed upon the people, and time would bring the peasants the greater freedoms they had requested.


The Wars of the Roses

The “Wars of the Roses” was a long period of civil unrest, punctuated with battles, between the houses or families of Lancaster and York. It is known as the Wars of the Roses because the symbol of each family was a rose – a red rose for Lancaster and a white one for York.

At the time, the Royal succession – that is, who would be the next King of England – was unsure. Henry V had died in 1422 leaving his infant son as heir to the throne. Civil war broke out between rival claimants to the throne, dating back to the sons of Edward III. The Lancastrian dynasty descended from John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, whose son Henry deposed the unpopular Richard II. Yorkist claimants such as the Duke of York asserted their legitimate claim to the throne through Edward III's second surviving son, but through a female line. The Wars of the Roses therefore tested whether the succession should keep to the male line or could pass through females.

Captured and briefly restored, Henry VI was captured and put to death, and the Yorkist faction led by Edward IV gained the throne. However the warring factions continued to compete, when Edward died and his brother Richard usurped the throne from his young nephew, becoming Richard III. Public opinion was against him and the young and capable Henry Tudor, of Lancastrian descent was able to regain the throne. He married Elizabeth, Edward IV’s daughter and sister to the princes in the Tower – Edward’s sons who Richard had placed in the Tower, and who disappeared from history - effectively joining the two houses. The Tudor symbol became the familiar red and white rose, combining the symbols of both houses.


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