William the Conqueror, king of England from 1066 to 1087, successfully arranged for Walchere of Lorraine to become the bishop of Durham around 1072. Around the time of Walchere’s appointment to the bishopric, resistance among the newly-conquered Anglo-Saxon population to King William’s Norman rule was beginning to die down. One visible example of this growing acceptance and assimilation among the Anglo-Saxons was the case of a certain wealthy man named Liulf. During the pre-1066 heyday of the Anglo-Saxons, Liulf had been a powerful thane with landholdings scattered in several regions of England. Sometime after 1072, however, Liulf chose to accept Norman rule and decided to live out his retirement in Durham.
As an Anglo-Saxon nobleman, Liulf had business and government experience, and he attempted to cultivate a friendship with the Norman administrators in Durham by offering his advice to them on any matters that they were willing to discuss. He had some success growing closer to Bishop Walchere, but the other administrators, such as the bishop’s secular counterpart, Gilbert, never warmed to the retired thane. As Liulf grew closer to the bishop, the other Norman officials in Durham only continued to become more and more irritated with his presence. Nevertheless, Liulf was safe as long as his friendship with Bishop Walchere remained intact.
Unfortunately for Liulf, something occurred around 1080 that caused a breach between the bishop and the thane. What exactly caused the divide is unknown, but Bishop Walchere’s faith in Liulf was shaken to such a visible extent that the Norman officials operating out of Durham predicted that if they struck at their Anglo-Saxon rival at this time, there would be little repercussion from the bishop. Putting their hopes on this hunch, Liulf’s enemies made their move, and the Anglo-Saxon thane was murdered in his home.
It is difficult to gauge the bishop’s reaction to the death. On the one hand, he reportedly did an investigation, accusing the aforementioned administrative and military official, Gilbert, of being involved in the murder. This official, along with other people implicated in the death, faced banishment from the region of Northumbria. Yet, on the other hand, Bishop Walchere reportedly allowed Gilbert and other such banished people to secretly stay at his Durham church property.
Unfortunately for the Normans in Durham, Liulf had been a well-connected man. His family, friends and other angry Anglo-Saxons marched on Durham to demand revenge. This force became all the more irate when they learned that Bishop Walchere was sheltering the very people that he had earlier banished for being involved in the murder. The bishop, for his part, apparently attempted to negotiate some sort of peace settlement between the accused murderers and the Anglo-Saxons rioters who had poured in from various sections of Northumbria. Bringing these two parties together, however, had a disastrous effect. The fates of Bishop Walchere and his Norman comrades were reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which stated, “In this year  bishop Walchere was slain in Durham, at a meeting, and a hundred men with him, French and Flemish; but he himself was born in Lorraine. This the Northumbrians did in the month of May” (AD 1080). In response to the massacre, King William reportedly sent a Norman army to ravage the region of Northumbria.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (A scene from the reign of Henry IV, illustrated by James William Edmund Doyle (1822–1892), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012.
- The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester translated by Thomas Forester. London: Petter and Galpin, originally published 1854.