Once a Knight is Enough

Knight Genealogy

by Laura Knight

Pity the Poor Immigrant

Nowadays, immigration and immigrants are a politically fraught topic. I don't want to engage with that, but I do want to write a bit about our Colonial ancestors as immigrants. I think the best way to approach the subject is simply to describe the conditions in Europe that led to a massive migration from there to the New World.

From Sheep to Ships and Colonies

Of the numerous books I have read to get a good idea about England and its history, one of the best is The Last Wolf: The Hidden Springs Of Englishness by Robert Winder; it is truly beautiful prose and a pleasure to read through 800 or so years of the history of the people of England, not the rulers. Englishness, he says, is a product of wet weather, wool, wheat, coal, and the fact that England is an island. The mild climate made it easy to keep vast numbers of sheep without having to bring them in at night. The rain grew the grass that fed the sheep that made the wool that made England wealthy. Rain also grew the wheat that made the bread. Coal mining began and England became a nation of exporters, merchants, a middle class, upward mobility. Wool wealth was invested in ships (necessary because it was an island) to export, and exporting led to exploration and mastery of the seas. Mastery of the seas led to empire building and finding and bringing back goods that England did not grow or make. And the rest, so they say, is history.  A really good read and it is well worth your time to have a good picture of the society and how it all worked.

The Time: Freezing and Famine

Following the warm Medieval period of Aelfmar, cniht of Æthelstan, things changed in England in sometimes dramatic ways. Weather, one of the factors cited for making the English what they were/are, has played a major role in history. During the Medieval Warm Period prior to 1300, the populations of Europe and England exploded compared to prior eras, reaching levels that were not matched again in some places until the nineteenth century; it is even said that parts of rural France today are less populous than at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Having mentioned Aelfmar, it might be useful to consider something of the history of Suffolk. Suffolk is an East Anglian county, that is, to the East of Cambridgeshire where Ælfric of Barton lived. Dunwich is located on the coast. Between 924 and 939 (reign of Æthelstan), Norwich became fully established as a town, with its own mint. The word Norvic appears on coins across Europe minted during this period. The Vikings (Danes) were a strong cultural influence in Norwich for 40 to 50 years at the end of the 9th century, setting up an Anglo-Scandinavian district near the north end of present day King Street. At the time of the Norman Conquest the city was one of the largest in England.

The Thomas Hinde edition of the Domesday Book makes some interesting observations about Suffolk:

Suffolk, with Norfolk and Essex, is included in a separate volume known as the Little Domesday Book.  This is a misleading description, since its entries are considerably more detailed than those of Domesday itself. Unfortunatly, the additional information does not always enhance or clarify what is known about Norman Britain. Indeed, it sometimes adds to the confusion.

The system of gelding, for instance, which appears to have been used only in Suffolk and Norfolk, is totally unexplained. It is believed that each of the 24 Suffolk hundreds was divided into units called leets, which figured significantly in apportioning the payment of the geld, or tax. …

Nevertheless, a clear picture of Suffolk does emerge. It was a county predominantly of villages and freemen, rather than of manors and feudal vassals. Its population was fairly evenly distributed. … None of the seven principal towns, which included Ipswich, Bury St Edmonds and Dunwich, had more than 3000 inhabitants. (Hinde 1995, p. 250, emphasis, mine)

Norwich Castle was founded soon after the Norman Conquest. The Domesday Book records that 98 Saxon homes were demolished to make way for the castle. I bet that went over well with the local population.

In 1096, Herbert de Losinga, Bishop of Thetford, began construction of Norwich Cathedral. The chief building material for the Cathedral was limestone, imported from Caen in Normandy. To transport the building stone to the site, a canal was cut from the river all the way up to the east wall.

The first recorded presence of Jews in Norwich is 1134. In 1144, the Jews of Norwich were accused of ritual murder after a boy (William of Norwich) was found dead with stab wounds. William acquired the status of martyr and was subsequently canonised. Pilgrims made offerings to a shrine at the Cathedral (largely finished by 1140) up to the 16th century, but the records suggest there were few of them.

In 1174, Norwich was sacked by the Flemings.

In February 1190, all the Jews of Norwich were massacred except for a few who found refuge in the castle. At the site of a medieval well, the bones of 17 individuals, including 11 children, were found in 2004 by workers preparing the ground for construction of a Norwich shopping centre. The remains were determined by forensic scientists to be most probably the remains of such murdered Jews, and a DNA expert determined that the victims were all related, so that they most probably came from one Ashkenazi Jewish family.

In 1216, the castle fell to Louis, Dauphin of France. Following this, there was an influx of the European religious orders of friars. The Dominicans (Black friars) were the first to arrive in Norwich in 1226 at which time  the city was sacked by the "Disinherited barons” who must have objected to the religious orders grabbing up all the land and being given their inheritances.

Norwich has the distinction of being the only English city ever to be excommunicated. 

In 1253 the defences of the town were enlarged and this led to conflict between the town and the Priory. The monks accused the town of trespassing and enclosing their land. (At this time the priory owned all the land south of the town as far as the River Yare as well as other areas of land around the town). The quarrel led to brawls between some citizens and some of the Priory servants which escalated into a full scale attack in 1272. The Ethelbert Gate was stormed and the church of St. Ethelbert, the bell tower and most of the wooden buildings of the monastery were destroyed. The town was heavily fined, and ordered to rebuild St Ethelbert's Gate as part of the compensation. (Ref.)

Everthing was going along just swimmingly and then, on 1 January 1286, a storm surge reached the east edge of the town and destroyed buildings in it. This was followed by two further surges the next year, the South England flood of February 1287 and St. Lucia's flood in December.

A fierce storm in 1328 also swept away the entire village of Newton, a few miles up the coast. Another large storm in 1347 swept some 400 houses into the sea. The Grote Mandrenke, or the 2nd St Marcellus flood, around 16 January 1362 finally destroyed much of the remainder of the town. (The first Great St Marcellus flood had occurred along the coasts of West Friesland and Groningen on 16 Jan 1219. The coincidence of the dates is remarkable. ) This massive SE gale caused a minimum of 25,000 deaths. An immense storm tide of the North Sea swept far inland from England and the Netherlands to Denmark and the German coast, breaking up islands, making parts of the mainland into islands, and wiping out entire towns and districts.

In 1349, the Black Death arrived in Norwich, and further outbreaks of the plague in 1362 and 1369 led to the deaths of over a quarter of the population. Yet strangely this was also a time of prosperity. The wool trade was expanding, and Norwich became the centre of the activity and main market for the worsted cloth.

In 1380 a charter was obtained giving the Bailiffs and committee of 'Twenty Four' (all rich merchants), the power the make and alter by-laws. A charter in 1404 replaced the Bailiffs with a Mayor and two Sheriffs, but control of the city was still in the hands of the rich merchants. (Ref.)

About Norwich itself, Hinde writes:

Dunwich is the English Atlantis – once the prosperous capital of East Anglia – overwhelmed by the ocean. … There is an ominous portent – as well as a report – of disaster in the terse Domesday description ‘Then 2 carucates of land, now 1. The sea carried away the other.’ The town had lost half its farmland in 20 years!  …

In 1328 the old port was abandoned after a huge storm had blocked it off from the sea. The ocean then began its direct assault on the city. A single storm in the fourteenth city destroyed 400 houses, as well as shops and windmills.  From then on Dunwich suffered increasingly. Excerpts from a history written in 1754 by Thomas Gardner give a grim catalogue of the destruction:

In the fourteenth century the churches of St Martin and St Nicholas were overthrown by the waves of the sea. 1608 – the High Road was eaten away.  1677 – the sea reached the market place, when the townsmen sold the lead of the cross.

By Gardner’s time only 35 houses and All Saints Church remained standing. (Hinde 1995, p. 250)

It is said that the bells of the ancient churches of Norwich, stolen by the sea, can still be heard being rung by ghosts beneath the waves.

During the period of Colonial Settlement, Earth was in the grip of the Little Ice Age which extended, according to some researchers, from about 1300 to 1850. Of course, the starting and ending of this period of climate stress varied according to local conditions, but in general, you could say that the weather was pretty awful and unreliable for about 500 years. What we have experienced from 1850 to, say, the late 1900s, was actually a spell of pretty good weather.

In the 13th century, pack ice began advancing southwards in the North Atlantic, along with the glaciers in Greenland. There is anecdotal evidence that glaciers were expanding almost worldwide. This may have been made worse by the massive eruption of Indonesian Samalas volcano in 1257. (You might want to read up on this one, it’s interesting.) Also, Mount Tarawera in New Zealand erupted around 1315. The ash thrown from this event may have affected temperatures around the globe and precipitated the Great Famine of 1315–17 in Europe.

The Great Famine was only the first of a series of large-scale crises that struck Europe early in the 14th century. Most of Europe (extending east to Russia and south to Italy) was affected. The famine caused millions upon millions of deaths over an extended period of time and brouth the period of growth and prosperity from the 11th to the 13th centuries to a screeching halt, and put everything into reverse.  

Life was short and brutal and most people were hungry all the time.  According to official records about the English royal family, an example of the elite of the time who should be well fed and expected to thrive, the average life expectancy in 1276 was 35.28 years. Between 1301 and 1325, during the Great Famine it was 29.84 years while between 1348 and 1375 during the Plague, it was only 17.33 years. Those numbers are absolutely chilling.

It all seemed to begin in the spring of 1315 when unusually heavy rain began to fall all over Europe. Throughout the spring and the summer, it continued to rain, and the temperature remained cool. The grain could not ripen, and crops failed. The straw and hay for the animals could not be cured in such damp conditions, so there was no fodder for the livestock.  Salt, the only way to cure and preserve meat, was hard to get because sea water could not be evaporated in wet weather. In Lorraine, wheat prices grew by 320%, making bread unaffordable to the majority of people. The stored grain for emergencies was reserved for royalty, lords, nobles, wealthy merchants, and the Church. People began to harvest wild edible roots, plants, grasses, nuts, and bark in the forests.

In the spring of 1316, it continued to rain on a European population deprived of energy and reserves to sustain itself. All segments of society from nobles to peasants suffered, but especially the peasants, 95% of the population. A form of “deficit spending” was undertaken: animals used for farm labor were slaughtered for food and seed grain was eaten leaving nothing for future planting; there was widescale abandonment of children such as was depicted in the story of "Hansel and Gretel";  old people voluntarily refused to eat so their children and grandchildren could survive; chroniclers of the time noted many incidents of cannibalism. Historians debate the death toll, but a reasonable estimate is that at least 25% of the population of many cities and towns died.

Several chroniclers of the time (especially Johannis de Trokelowe) left a record of the events, giving us a picture into the suffering and deprivation suffered by all: young and old, rich and poor.

Capons and fowl could hardly be found, sheep died from a morraine, pigs could not be reared because of the price of fodder. A quarter measure of wheat, beans and peas sold for twenty shillings, barley for one mark and oats for ten (marks). Even a quarter of salt commonly sold for thirty five shillings that in earlier times was utterly unheard of.  …

The usual kinds of meat, suitable for eating, were too scarce; horse meat was precious; plump dogs were stolen. And, according to many reports, men and women in many places secretly ate their own children….(Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde, Chronica et Annales, ed. Riley)

The Hundred Years War covers the 116-year period from 1337 to 1453, the Black Death 1347/48-1351. Some really ugly stuff was going on back then. China, where the Black Death is said to have originated, lost around half of its entire population (going from around 123 million to around 65 million). Recent research into European death tolls also suggests a figure of 45% to 50% of the total European population dying during a four-year period though the figure fluctuated from place to place (which is a problem as we will see). In Mediterranean Europe - Italy, the South of France and Spain - where the plague ran for about four years consecutively, it was probably closer to 70-75% of the total population. (In the US today that would be equivalent to reducing the ­population from its current 305 million to 75 million in less than four years. That would also amount to having to bury or dispose of around 225 million corpses.) In Germany and England it was probably closer to 20%. Northeastern Germany, Bohemia, Poland and Hungary are believed to have suffered less for some reason (and there are a few theories which are not entirely satisfactory).

When one studies the history of the Black Death and the Hundred Years War side by side, the thing that stands out is that whatever was going on then, there were conscienceless people taking advantage of the situation of confusion and terror.  The famine led to a stark increase in crime, even among those not normally inclined to criminal activity, because people would resort to any means to feed themselves or their family. For the next several decades, after the famine, Europe took on a tougher and more violent edge; it became an even less amicable place than during the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries. This could be seen across all segments of society, perhaps most strikingly in the way warfare was conducted in the fourteenth century during the Hundred Years' War, when chivalry ended, as opposed to the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries when nobles were more likely to die by accident in tournament games than on the field of battle.For example, we read the following:

This would be a war of devastation. Villages and crops were burned, orchards were felled, livestock seized and residents harried. On Edward's entry into France he spent a week torching Cambrai and its environs. More than 1,000 villages were destroyed. France did what it could in England, at the war's onset seamen ventured to the southeastern coast of England to burn and ravage there. Much plunder was taken back to England and the thought of acquiring ill-gotten gain enticed many to support the war.

Cruelty abounded. After the city of Limoges was captured and burned, Edward ordered the townsmen executed. Much of Artois, Brittany, Normandy, Gascony and other provinces were reduced to desolation (circa 1355 to 1375) and France did the same to the provinces that sided with England. Walled towns were safe during the early period of the war, but churches, monasteries, villages and rural areas were ruined.

Truce and treaty were not observed. The 'Free Companies' went into action, bandits of either English, French or hired mercenaries led by captains that dominated large areas and levied tribute on towns, villages and churches. They also seized women, took clergymen as accountants and correspondents, children for servants and plundered. (Edward P. Cheney. The Dawn of a New Era. 1250-1435. 1936.)

At the same time, the weather was going crazy. Astronomers Victor Clube and Bill Napier write:

One chronicler at least reports of the most immediate cause of the plague in 1345 that 'between Cathay and Persia there rained a vast rain of fire; falling in flakes like snow and burning up ­mountains and plains and other lands, with men and women; and then arose vast masses of smoke; and whosoever beheld this died within the space of half a day...' There seems little doubt also that a worldwide cooling of the Earth played a fundamental part in the process. The Arctic polar cap extended, changing the cyclonic pattern and leading to a series of disastrous harvests. These in turn led to widespread famine, death and social disruption.

In England and Scotland, there is a pattern of abandoned villages and farms, soaring wheat prices and falling populations.

In Eastern Europe there was a series of winters of unparalleled severity and depth of snow. The chronicles of monasteries in Poland and Russia tell of cannibalism, common graves overfilled with corpses, and migrations to the west.

Even before the Black Death came, then, a human catastrophe of great proportions was under way in late medieval times. Indeed, the cold snap lasted well beyond the period of the ... plague. A number of such fluctuations are to be found in the historical record, and there is good evidence that these climatic stresses are connected not only with famine but also with times of great social unrest, wars, revolution and mass migrations. (Clube, The Cosmic Winter.)

The years 1539-1541 were plagued by great heat and drought. It is said that the River Thames was so low that seawater extended above London Bridge. There were many deaths due to some unknown sickness, possibly a flu, and the year 1540 is described in contemporary chronicles as the "Big Sun Year".

In 1580 there was an earthquake in th Dover Straits estimated to have been 5.3-5.9.

It sounds surprisingly like our own era, does it not including the massive increase in meteors and fireballs, weather going crazy, earthquakes, sinkholes, floods and tsunamis? There are differences in detail and in scale, but the dynamics of a world gone mad, incredible cruelty running rampant, and global climate fluctuations are the same as we see before us now.

The famine also undermined confidence in medieval governments for their failure to deal with its resulting crises.  Calvinism was one of the developments that came out of this period. As Clube notes, the Protestant reformation was partly due to the fact that the powers of the time, the Catholic Church, had built their control system based on the Aristotelian system of 'God is in his heaven and all will be right with the world if you are a good Christian'. Obviously, they didn't want to talk about a cosmos run amok. And the fact that things were running amok and the church apparently couldn't do anything about it gave ammunition to the Reformers who then were able to attract many followers. The Protestants thus were able to use the situation to their advantage, suggesting that it was 'The End of Times' and that this was all part of the plan and people would be saved if they would only come over to the Protestant side. Of course, once the Protestants had 'won their place', so to say, they too had to establish authority and adopt the Aristotelian view! 'Now, God is in his heaven and all will be right and there won't be any more catastrophic disruptions as long as everybody goes to church, tithes, and obeys the appointed authorities.'

Historian Wolfgang Behringer has linked intensive witch-hunting episodes in Europe to agricultural failures during the Little Ice Age.  Prior to the Little Ice Age, "witchcraft" was considered an insignificant crime and victims were rarely accused. But beginning in the 1380s, just as the Little Ice Age began, European populations began to link magic and weather-making. From the early decades of the fifteenth century until 1650, continental Europeans executed between two and five hundred thousand witches (according to conservative estimates), more than 85 percent of them being women. (Ben Yehuda, 1985.) People of the time, and even later, really did believe in the reality of witchcraft and evil demons. Men like Newton, Bacon, Boyle, Locke and Hobbes firmly believed in the reality of evil spirits and witches. As historian and religious scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell said:

Tens of thousands of [witch] trials continued throughout Europe generation after generation, while Leonardo painted, Palestrina composed and Shakespeare wrote. (1984.)

Witches were blamed for direct and indirect consequences of the Little Ice Age: livestock epidemics, cows that gave too little milk, late frosts, and unknown diseases. In general, as the temperature dropped, the number of witchcraft trials rose, and trials decreased when temperature increased.

Taking into account the Black Death and the wars of the time killing off so much of the male population, one might also suppose that there was an increase in unmarried women or women who had inherited estates when all other family members had perished. In short, women were becoming autonomous as a consequence. The most spectacular 'witch' was Joan of Arc who was tried, condemned, and burned in 1431. Her trial and execution can clearly be seen as political, often a major, underlying motivation for such accusations.

But it wasn’t just women. In 1397, a man named Stedelen was accused of being a witch in Simmental, Switzerland, after the harvest had failed at his village. According to his accusers, Stedelen used black magic to destroy the crops by allegedly sacrificing a black rooster on the Sabbath at a crossroad and placing a lizard under the doorway of a local church. Peter von Greyerz, the judge, was a firm believer in witchcraft, which he believed had been introduced in Simmental by a nobleman called Scavius in 1375. He was killed by his many enemies, but he had a student, who according to Greyerz had been the tutor of Stedelen. There was no real evidence presented, of course, but Stedelen had allegedly become an expert on magic and supposedly learned to steal manure, hay and such from others' fields by magic, create hail and thunderstorms, make people and animals sterile, make horses crazy when he touched their hooves, fly and terrify those who captured him. Greyerz also accused Stedelen of having taken the milk from the cows of a married couple in order to make the wife miscarry. After torture, Stedelen confessed to summoning forth demons as part of a pact with the Devil. His trial took place in a secular court following which he was burned at the stake.

In 1415-1419, in the Duchy of Savoy, there was a civil-war between clans of the nobility. Various noble families had rebelled against the Raron family, and the masses were drawn into the conflict. This had gone on for some time and, by 1428, the entire society in that area was in a state of great tension. No one knows who came up with the idea that all the troubles were due to witches, but on 7 August 1428, delegates from seven districts in Valais demanded that the authorities investigate alleged, unknown witches and sorcerers. Anyone denounced as a sorcerer by more than three people was to be arrested. If they confessed, they were to be burned at the stake as heretics, and if they did not confess, they would be tortured until they did so and then would be burned at the stake. Obviously, a lot of people confessed just to skip the torture part. Also, those pointed out by more than two of the judged sorcerers were to be arrested. These accusations, trials and executions were probably seen by other elite individuals - or individuals who wished to become members of the elite by seizing the property of those they resented or envied - as a handy way to deal with many problems. The craze rapidly spread north into Germany, then to France and Switzerland.

As the craze spread over Europe, literally hundreds of thousands of women were burned at the stake. Children and even whole families were sent to be burned. The historical sources are full of horrifying descriptions of the tortures these poor people were subjected to. Entire villages were exterminated. One account says that all of Germany was covered with stakes and Germans were entirely occupied with building bonfires to burn the victims. One inquisitor is reported to have said: "I wish [the witches] had but one body, so that we could burn them all at once, in one fire!" (Trevor-Roper 1967, p. 152).

In the 1580s, the Catholic Counter-Reformation became dedicated witch hunters also, going after Protestants, mainly. In France, most witches happened to be Huguenot. In Protestant areas, most witches were Catholic. It could be said that most cases of witch burnings were either personal or political or both. One victim was a judge who was burned in 1628 for showing 'suspicious leniency'. As the craze spread, the viciousness and barbarity of the attacks increased. The aforementioned judge, a Dr. Haan, under torture, confessed to having seen five burgomasters of Bamberg at the witches Sabbath, and they too were executed. One of them, a Johannes Julius, under torture confessed that he had renounced God, given himself to the Devil, and seen twenty-seven of his colleagues at the Sabbath. But afterward, from prison, he contrived to smuggle a letter out to his daughter, Veronica, giving a full account of his trial. He wrote:

Now, my dearest child, you have here all my acts and confessions, for which I must die. It is all falsehood and invention, so help me God... They never cease to torture until one says something. If God sends no means of bringing the truth to light, our whole kindred will be burnt. (Trevor-Roper 1967, p. 157.)

The prolonged cold, dry periods brought drought upon many European communities, resulting in poor crop growth, poor livestock survival, and increased activity of pathogens and disease vectors.  Disease tends to intensify under the same conditions that unemployment and economic difficulties arise: prolonged, cold, dry seasons. Both of these outcomes – disease and unemployment – enhance each other, generating a lethal positive feedback loop.

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were a time when the forces of nature ran amok, and the powers of the time needed to save face and keep control: how was it that they, who overcame paganism by the promise that their God could protect his believers from the forces of nature, now had to explain why it wasn’t working? There was, undoubtedly, a resurgence of Paganism and to prevent that it was probably seen as ideal to blame the enemy - pagans or Jews - for destruction that they had nothing to do with. Protestantism was on the rise, of course, but its proponents did not see it as politic to go after the Mother Church yet which still held a great deal of power, so some other sin-bearer had to be found. At the end of the Hundred Years War and the Black Death, and the Thirty Years War - all of which were periods of environmental stress  - the Witch Persecutions were utilized to hush up completely any hint that the Earth was not securely in the hands of God, and history and truth was suppressed with blood and burning human flesh.

The 'witch myth' was created in the late 1400s in reaction to the Black Death and environmental stress bringing death and destruction on an almost unimaginable scale and this 'myth' consisted of a whole, coherent system of beliefs, assumptions, rituals, and 'sacred texts' that had never existed until this time and that were created by a couple of woman hating psychopaths in a book called the Malleus Maleficarum! (Kramer and Sprenger, both members of the Dominican Order and Inquisitors for the Catholic Church)The Dominicans developed and popularized the conceptions of demonology and witchcraft as a negative image of the 'true faith', and the Protestants were just as busy! Indeed. The calamities of that time - of any time - assault religious faith. And anyone who talks about such calamities in a reasonable and factual way as just what Nature does, and who backs it up with scientific data, must be silenced because they threaten the control of the Elite.

Farms and villages in the Swiss Alps were destroyed by encroaching glaciers during the mid-17th century. Canals and rivers in Great Britain and the Netherlands froze solid enough to support ice skating and winter festivals. (The first River Thames frost fair was in 1608 and the last in 1814.) The crazy cold weather even extended down into Anatolia where the Golden Horn and the southern section of the Bosphorus froze in 1622. In 1658, it was so cold a Swedish army marched directly to Denmark to attack Copenhagen. Sea ice surrounded Iceland for miles in every direction, closing harbors to shipping. The population of Iceland went down by at least 50%.  The Norse colonies in Greenland starved and vanished by the early 15th century, as crops failed and livestock could not be maintained through increasingly harsh winters. Greenland was largely cut off from the rest of the world by ice from 1410 to the 1720s.

In his 1995 book the early climatologist Hubert Lamb said that in many years, "snowfall was much heavier than recorded before or since, and the snow lay on the ground for many months longer than it does today." In Lisbon, Portugal, snowstorms were much more frequent than today; one winter in the 17th century produced eight snowstorms. Many springs and summers were cold and wet but with great variability between years and groups of years. There was a shortened, less reliable growing season, and there were many years of dearth and famine.

Scientists have tentatively identified seven possible causes of the Little Ice Age: orbital cycles; decreased solar activity; increased volcanic activity; altered ocean current flows and the inherent variability of global climate.  There is still a very poor understanding of the correlation between low sunspot activity and cooling temperatures. During the period 1645–1715, in the middle of the Little Ice Age, there was a period of low solar activity known as the Maunder Minimum. The Spörer Minimum has also been identified with a significant cooling period between 1460 and 1550.

The end result of it all was that this was the crucible from which the earliest named members of the Knight family emerged, and was undoubtedly a major part of what drove them, and so many others, to seek a more reasonable life elsewhere.

Historian, Sam White, in his exhaustively researched  book, A Cold Welcome, presents a fascinating account of Europeans’ 16th and early 17th century incursions into North America to highlight that colonial exploration was impeded by famines, diseases, afflictions and deaths for the Indians, the British, the French, and the Spanish as they faced storms, icy winters, hurricanes, droughts, and extreme cold spells. Early European explorers and settlers of North America reported exceptionally severe winters. For example, according to Lamb, Samuel Champlain reported bearing ice along the shores of Lake Superior in June 1608. Both Europeans and indigenous peoples suffered excess mortality in Maine during the winter of 1607–1608, and extreme frost was reported in the Jamestown, Virginia, settlement at the same time.

Meanwhile, back in England, the environment was still delivering insults.

On 30 January 1607, around noon, the coasts of the Bristol Channel suffered from unexpectedly high floodings that broke the coastal defences in several places. Low-lying places in Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, and South Wales were flooded. The devastation was particularly severe on the Welsh side, extending from Laugharne in Carmarthenshire to above Chepstow in Monmouthshire. Cardiff was the most badly affected town, with the foundations of St Mary's Church destroyed.

It is estimated that 2,000 or more people were drowned, houses and villages were swept away, an estimated 200 square miles (51,800 ha) of farmland inundated, and livestock destroyed, wrecking the local economy along the coasts of the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary.

The coast of Devon and the Somerset Levels as far inland as Glastonbury Tor, 14 miles (23 km) from the coast, were also affected. The sea wall at Burnham-on-Sea gave way,[3] and the water flowed over the low-lying levels and moors. Thirty villages in Somerset were affected, including Brean which was "swallowed up" and where seven out of the nine houses were destroyed with 26 of the inhabitants dying.

For ten days the Church of All Saints at Kingston Seymour, near Weston-super-Mare, was filled with water to a depth of 5 feet (1.5 m). A chiselled mark remains showing that the maximum height of the water was 7.74 metres (25 feet 5 inches) above sea level. A number of commemorative plaques still remain, up to 8 feet (2.4 m) above sea level, showing how high the waters rose on the sides of surviving churches. For example, at Goldcliff near Newport the church has a small brass plaque, inside on the north wall near the altar, today about three feet above ground level, marking the height of the flood waters. The plaque records the year as 1606 because, under the Julian calendar in use at that time, the new year did not start until Lady Day, 25 March. The resultant financial loss in the parish was estimated as £5,000. The flood was commemorated in a contemporary pamphlet entitled God's warning to the people of England by the great overflowing of the waters or floods.

A 2002 research paper, following investigations by Professor Simon Haslett of Bath Spa University and Australian geologist Ted Bryant of the University of Wollongong, suggested that the flooding may have been caused by a tsunami, after the authors had read some eyewitness accounts in the historical reports which described the flood.

The British Geological Survey has suggested that, as there is no evidence of a landslide off the continental shelf, a tsunami would most likely have been caused by an earthquake on a known unstable fault off the coast of southwest Ireland, causing the vertical displacement of the sea floor. One contemporary report describes an earth tremor on the morning of the flood.

Haslett and Bryant found significant evidence for the tsunami hypothesis. This included massive boulders that had been displaced up the beach by enormous force; a layer up to 8 inches (20 cm) thick composed of sand, shells and stones within an otherwise constant deposit of mud that was found in boreholes from Devon to Gloucestershire and the Gower Peninsula; and rock erosion characteristic of high water velocities throughout the Severn Estuary. (Ref.)

I hope that the above gives a good idea of what conditions were like during the period of exploration and Colonial expansion. The colonists did not have much choice if they wanted to try to have a decent life because conditions in Europe were truly horrendous from many points of view. And the colonists did not come to the New World with any idea of totally dispossessing the Native Americans or comitting genocide on them. Indeed, they thought that what they had to offer the Indians was something of value: a better way of life, and of course, salvation. A careful reading of the records of the Virginia Company and early court records easily demonstrates that great care and thought had been put into this issue and the English were trying to be fair and decent from the beginning. But when two vastly different cultures interact, there are bound to be massive misunderstandings; and so it was. These misunderstandings compounded and violent interactions took place when then compounded on their own. If it wasn't so tragic, it would have been a comedy of errors.

The English (and others) saw the Americas as lands that were mostly empty. By European standards, they were. They saw the Native Americans as desperately in need of "civilizing"; they were often nearly naked and suffered from the cold and food shortages and warfare between tribes as much as anyone would have. The colonists had solutions to many of these problems and wanted to share their culture and its benefits if the Indians would only cooperate! Some of them did; others did not. What the natives did not understand was that many of the colonists had no choice; they could not go back to where they came from, and attacking them, as the natives did, was only going to make matters worse because the colonists had resources to draw on (eventually) that made it a foregone conclusion who was going to prevail. And because of some of the egregious attacks by Native Americans on colonists (many of them were egregious by any standards), when the colonists prevailed, they did so with a very different perception of the natives than the one with which they arrived. It could only go downhill from there. When they arrived, according to the records, the colonists saw the natives as children of God who only needed to be brought into the fold to become equal cohabitants; intermarriage and amalgamation was thought to be a good thing, witness the marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas which was thought to be a great step in the right direction.

But all those good intentions went by the wayside little by little. The colonies passed laws to protect the natives; the natives took advantage of those laws to torment and abuse the colonists. Little by little, the view of the colonists changed to the idea that the natives were children of Satan or a lesser god, and sub-human at that.

Meanwhile, the attempts to impose a more rigid English government on the colonists by the very power structure they had hoped to escape only exacerbated matters.

Peter Knight of Northumberland County VA was peripherally involved in some of the Indian affairs.

1669 Apr 6 - Northumberland VA - Court – "Whereas Mr. Robt. Jones complained to this Cort. yt. ye Indians of Wecocomaco did in ye night breake open his House & did him further damage, ye Cort. doe order yt. Mr. Peter Knight & Capt. Edmund Lyster, summon ye Indians before them & punish ye delinquents according to ye nature of their crimes." (Sparacio, 1666-1678, p. 86).

1670 Jul 20 -  Northumberland VA -  Court: " Mr. Peter Knight & Capt. Edmund Lyster are appointed to view ye bounds of ye Land betweene Mr. Robt. Jones & ye Indians, & see what damages either have reced. by ye other; & give their report thereof to ye next Cort." (Sparacio NCOBA 1669-1673, p. 20)

Similar things were going on elsewhere. In July of 1675, the Doeg Indians raided the plantation of Thomas Mathews because they claimed that Mathews had not paid for some items. Several of the Doegs were killed in the raid. The governor, Sir William Berkeley refused to retaliate against the natives; there were strict laws protecting them and the colonial government had been charged with maintaining the peace. The colonists organized a retaliatory strike which, apparently, attacked a different tribe.

Trying to keep things from getting out of hand, Governor Berkeley ordered an investigation and set up a meeting between the disaffected parties that proved to be disastrous and resulted in the murders of several tribal chiefs. Berkeley was pleading for restraint, while Nathaniel Bacon, seized some of the friengly Appomattox Indians and accused them of stealing corn from the colonists. (They probably did since harvests were still poor due to environmental conditions.) Berkeley reprimaded Bacon and many of the colonists who were being subjected to similar raids and theft by the natives wondered whose side Berkeley was on.

Berkeley's policy was to preserve the friendship and loyalty of the subject Indians while assuring the settlers that they were not hostile. To meet his first objective, the Governor relieved the local Indians of their powder and ammunition. To deal with the second objective, Berkeley called the "Long Assembly" in March 1676.

The Long Assembly was accused of corruption because of its ruling regarding trade with the Indians. Not coincidentally, most of the favored traders were friends of Berkeley. Regular traders, some of whom had been trading independently with the local Indians for generations, were no longer allowed to trade individually. A government commission was established to monitor trading among those specially chosen and to make sure the Indians were not receiving any arms and ammunition. Bacon, one of the traders adversely affected by the Governor's order, accused Berkeley publicly of playing favorites. Bacon was also resentful because Berkeley had denied him a commission as a leader in the local militia. Bacon became the elected "General" of a group of local volunteer Indian fighters, because he promised to bear the cost of the campaigns.

After Bacon drove the Pamunkeys from their nearby lands in his first action, Berkeley exercised one of the few instances of control over the situation that he was to have, by riding to Bacon's headquarters at Henrico with 300 "well armed" gentlemen. Upon Berkeley's arrival, Bacon fled into the forest with 200 men in search of a place more to his liking for a meeting. Berkeley then issued two petitions declaring Bacon a rebel and pardoning Bacon's men if they went home peacefully. Bacon would then be relieved of the council seat that he had won for his actions that year, but he was to be given a fair trial for his disobedience.

Bacon did not, at this time, comply with the Governor's orders. Instead he next attacked the camp of the friendly Occaneecheee Indians on the Roanoke River (the border between Virginia and North Carolina), and took their store of beaver pelts.

In the face of a brewing catastrophe, Berkeley, to keep the peace, was willing to forget that Bacon was not authorized to take the law into his own hands. Berkeley agreed to pardon Bacon if he turned himself in, so he could be sent to England and tried before King Charles II. It was the House of Burgesses, however, who refused this alternative, insisting that Bacon must acknowledge his errors and beg the Governor's forgiveness. Ironically, at the same time, Bacon was then elected to the Burgesses by supportive local land owners sympathetic to his Indian campaigns. Bacon, by virtue of this election, attended the landmark Assembly of June 1676. It was during this session that he was mistakenly credited with the political reforms that came from this meeting. The reforms were prompted by the population, cutting through all class lines. Most of the reform laws dealt with reconstructing the colony's voting regulations, enabling freemen to vote, and limiting the number of years a person could hold certain offices in the colony. Most of these laws were already on the books for consideration well before Bacon was elected to the Burgesses. Bacon's only cause was his campaign against the Indians.

Upon his arrival for the June Assembly, Bacon was captured, taken before Berkeley and council and was made to apologize for his previous actions. Berkeley immediately pardoned Bacon and allowed him to take his seat in the assembly. At this time, the council still had no idea how much support was growing in defense of Bacon. The full awareness of that support hit home when Bacon suddenly left the Burgesses in the midst of heated debate over Indian problems. He returned with his forces to surround the statehouse. Once again Bacon demanded his commission, but Berkeley called his bluff and demanded that Bacon shoot him.

"Here shoot me before God, fair mark shoot."

Bacon refused. Berkeley granted Bacon's previous volunteer commission but Bacon refused it and demanded that he be made General of all forces against the Indians, which Berkeley emphatically refused and walked away. Tensions ran high as the screaming Bacon and his men surrounded the statehouse, threatening to shoot several onlooking Burgesses if Bacon was not given his commission. Finally after several agonizing moments, Berkeley gave in to Bacon's demands for campaigns against the Indians without government interference. With Berkeley's authority in shambles, Bacon's brief tenure as leader of the rebellion began.

Shortly after the immediate crisis subsided, Berkeley briefly retired to his home at Green Springs and washed his hands of the entire mess. Nathaniel Bacon dominated Jamestown from July through September 1676. During this time, Berkeley did come out of his lethargy and attempt a coup, but support for Bacon was still too strong and Berkeley was forced to flee to Accomack County on the Eastern Shore.

Feeling that it would make his triumph complete, Bacon issued his "Declaration of the People" on July 30, 1676 which stated that Berkeley was corrupt, played favorites and protected the Indians for his own selfish purposes.

Bacon's fleet was first and finally secretly infiltrated by Berkeley's men and finally captured. This was to be the turning point in the conflict, because Berkeley was once again strong enough to retake Jamestown. Bacon then followed his sinking fortunes to Jamestown and saw it heavily fortified. He made several attempts at a siege, during which he kidnapped the wives of several of Berkeley's biggest supporters, including Mrs. Nathaniel Bacon Sr., and placed them upon the ramparts of his siege fortifications while he dug his position. Infuriated, Bacon burned Jamestown to the ground on September 19, 1676. (He did save many valuable records in the statehouse.) By now his luck had clearly run out with this extreme measure and he began to have trouble controlling his men's conduct as well as keeping his popular support. Few people responded to Bacon's appeal to capture Berkeley who had since returned to the Eastern Shore for safety reasons.

On October 26th, 1676, Bacon abruptly died of the "Bloodie Flux" and "Lousey Disease" (body lice). It is possible his soldiers burned his contaminated body because it was never found. (His death inspired this little ditty; Bacon is Dead I am sorry at my hart That lice and flux should take the hangman's part".)

Shortly after Bacon's death, Berkeley regained complete control and hanged the major leaders of the rebellion. He also seized rebel property without the benefit of a trial. All in all, twenty-three persons were hanged for their part in the rebellion. Later after an investigating committee from England issued its report to King Charles II, Berkeley was relieved of the Governorship and returned to England where he died in July 1677. (Excerpts: Ref.)

"The fear of civil war among whites frightened Virginia's ruling elite, who took steps to consolidate power and improve their image: for example, restoration of property qualifications for voting, reducing taxes and adoption of a more aggressive American Indian policy."Charles II was reported to have commented, "That old fool has put to death more people in that naked country than I did here for the murder of my father."No record of the king's comments have been found; the origin of the story appears to have been colonial myth that arose at least 30 years after the events, although it is true that the King prided himself on the clemency he had shown to his father's enemies.

Indentured servants both black and white joined the frontier rebellion. Seeing them united in a cause alarmed the ruling class. Historians believe the rebellion hastened the hardening of racial lines associated with slavery, as a way for planters and the colony to control some of the poor. (Ref.)

It seems to me that what ultimately happened was that the ruling classes, frightened by the uprising of the common people demanding protection and fairness, turned the attention of the colonists toward a new scapegoat: alien races. Because it is a certainty that following these events, the colonies transitioned to outright slavery for life whereas before, indentured servants of all colors and races served only for their contracted period of years and then were given the means to start their own lives.

Meanwhile, England had its own problems brewing: the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688-89 which led to even more people departing from England to the colonies, mainly supporters of the monarchy.

And the weather was still bad and causing hardship.

The journal of Pierre de Troyes, Chevalier de Troyes, who led an expedition to James Bay in 1686, recorded that the bay was still littered with so much floating ice that he could hide behind it in his canoe on 1 July.

In 1703, England was hit by an extratropical cyclone on November 26.

Contemporary observers recorded barometric readings as low as 973 millibars (measured by William Derham in south Essex), but it has been suggested that the storm deepened to 950 millibars over the Midlands. Retrospective analysis conjectures that the storm was consistent with a Category 2 hurricane.

In London alone, approximately 2,000 massive chimney stacks were blown down. The lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbey and Queen Anne had to shelter in a cellar at St James's Palace to avoid collapsing chimneys and part of the roof. On the Thames, some 700 ships were heaped together in the Pool of London, the section downstream from London Bridge. HMS Vanguard was wrecked at Chatham. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell's HMS Association was blown from Harwich to Gothenburg in Sweden before way could be made back to England. Pinnacles were blown from the top of King’s College Chapel, in Cambridge.

There was extensive and prolonged flooding in the West Country, particularly around Bristol. Hundreds of people drowned in flooding on the Somerset Levels, along with thousands of sheep and cattle, and one ship was found 15 miles (24 km) inland. Approximately 400 windmills were destroyed, with the wind driving their wooden gears so fast that some burst into flames. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder and his wife were killed when two chimneystacks in the palace fell on them, asleep in bed. This same storm blew in part of the great west window in Wells Cathedral. Major damage occurred to the southwest tower of Llandaff Cathedral at Cardiff in Wales. At sea, many ships were wrecked, some of which were returning from helping Archduke Charles, the claimed King of Spain, fight the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. These ships included HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Northumberland, HMS Mary and HMS Restoration, with about 1,500 seamen killed particularly on the Goodwin Sands. Between 8,000 and 15,000 lives were lost overall.

The first Eddystone Lighthouse off Plymouth was destroyed on 27 November 1703 (Old Style), killing six occupants, including its builder Henry Winstanley. (John Rudyard was later contracted to build the second lighthouse on the site.) A ship torn from its moorings in the Helford River in Cornwall was blown for 200 miles (320 km) before grounding eight hours later on the Isle of Wight. The number of oak trees lost in the New Forest alone was 4,000. The storm of 1703 caught a convoy of 130 merchant ships sheltering at Milford Haven, along with their man of war escorts Dolphin, Cumberland, Coventry, Looe, Hastings and Hector. By 3:00pm the next afternoon, losses included 30 vessels.

The storm was unprecedented in ferocity and duration and was generally reckoned by witnesses to represent the anger of God, in recognition of the "crying sins of this nation". The government declared 19 January 1704 a day of fasting, saying that it "loudly calls for the deepest and most solemn humiliation of our people". It remained a frequent topic of moralising in sermons well into the 19th century.

Lamb (1991) claimed 10,000 seamen were lost in one night, a far higher figure, about one third of the seamen in the Royal Navy. Daniel Defoe's book The Storm suggests that the Royal Navy lost one fifth of its ships which would however indicate a much lower proportion of seamen were lost, as some wrecked sailors survived. Shrewsbury narrowly escaped a similar fate. More than 40 merchant ships were also lost. (Ref.)

Because of the economic hardships and civil strife in the "Mother Land" that have been described in some detail above, there was a mass migration of English people to the New World, mainly between 1640 and 1675, and 1688 onward. Among these immigrants were a number of individuals named Knight. Who they were and how they might be related is still a puzzle to be solved.


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