Archenfield is the English name of the Welsh cantref or kingdom of Ergyng, which itself took its name from Ariconium, the Roman settlement which the English now call Weston-under-Penyard near Ross-on-Wye. At the time of the Domesday Book Archenfield/Ergyng comprised a small slice of territory on the west bank of the Wye Valley which had fallen under English control sometime before the Norman Conquest of 1066. However this control was disputed as Domesday also records that "King Gruffydd and Bleddyn laid this land waste before 1066; therefore what it was like at that time is not known".
(It is worth noting that because Ariconium/Weston-under-Penyard itself is to the east of the river Wye and did not lie within the Domesday Archenfield, it is probable that Ergyng itself was originally much greater in extent and may well have once encompassed the whole of the territory between the Wye and Severn.)
The Domesday Book recorded that the Welsh of 'Arcenefelde' as it was then known, were permitted to retain their own customs in return for providing the advance guard of the king's army when it ventured into Wales and the rear guard on its return, whilst "The priests ... undertake the king's embassies into Wales" providing, no doubt, a ready made translation service.
The Welsh inhabitants of Archenfield thereafter retained their privilged position, living in a shadowy border land that was not really part of England nor Wales. In 1326 it was recorded that "The Frenchmen and Welshmen of Urchenesfeld hold their tenements in chief of our lord the King by socage
, rendering £19 7s 6d. And they ought to find 49 foot-soldiers for our lord the King in Wales for 15 days at their own cost."
This situation persisted until the Acts of Union 1536-1543 tidied up many of the administrative anomalies within Wales and the Marcher borderlands. However no consideration was given at the time to ethnic or linguistic realities, and so various territories were grouped together in a rough and ready manner to form the new shires. Archenfield was thus bundled into Herefordshire, but remained a Welsh speaking region of that county until the seventeenth century. The evidence of its former status remains in many curiously Anglo-Welsh placenames such as Llanwarn, Llandinabo, Much Dewchurch and Pencoyd.
The Domesday entry for Archenfield
In Archenfield the king has three churches. The priests of these churches undertake the king's embassies into Wales, and each of them sings for the king two masses every week. When any one of them dies, the king customarily has 20s. from him.
If any Welshman steals a man or a woman, a horse, an ox, or a cow, on being convicted, he first returns what has been stolen and pays 20s. as a fine. For theft of a sheep, however, or of a bundle of sheaves, he pays 2s. fine. If any one kills a man of the king or commits house-breaking, he pays the king 20s. compensation for the man and 100s. as fine. If he kills any thegn's man, he gives 10s. to the lord of the slain man.
But if a Welshman kills a Welshman, the relatives of the slain man come together and plunder the slayer and his kin and burn their houses until, toward noon on the following day, the body of the slain man is buried. Of this plunder the king has the third part, but they enjoy all the rest of it in peace.
He, however, who burns a house in another fashion, on being accused of doing so, defends himself by forty men. But if he cannot, he has to pay 20s. fine to the king. If any one conceals a sester of honey out of a customary payment, and is convicted of it, he renders five sesters for one, should he hold enough land to warrant the payment.
If the sheriff calls them to the shire court, six or seven of the better men among them go with him. He who is summoned and does not go gives the king 2s. or an ox; and whoever stays away from the hundred pays the same amount. He who is commanded by the sheriff to go with him into Wales, and does not do so, pays a similar fine. But if the sheriff does not go, none of them has to go.
When the army advances against the enemy, they customarily form the advance guard, and on return the rear guard. These were the customs of the Welshmen in Archenfield during the time of King Edward.
- Archenfield at http://www.domesdaybook.net/hs900.htm
- Herefordshire history at http://www.hereford.uk.com/
- Excerpts From Domesday Book at http://www.constitution.org/sech/sech_022.htm
- Archenfield Archaeology at http://www.archenfield.com/whoarewe.htm