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a Sketch of the Garly History of Colchester.
BY HENRY LAVER, F.S.A.
I PURPOSE, ladies and gentlemen, in the short paper I have prepared, to give you an account of Colchester and its history up to the time of the arrival of those refugees in 1570, in whom all Members of this Society are specially interested. I shall begin with the historic period, which for Colchester commences A.D. 43, when it was captured by the Roman Emperor Claudius. Of course this town had a history, although an unwritten one, centuries before, as it had a line of kings, who from Camulodunum as their capital, governed a large part of Southern Britain. We have proof of this fact of their existence, from their numerous coins being occasionally found, more commonly near Colchester, and more rarely throughout the district they governed.
At the time of the Roman invasion, considerable progress had been made in civilization. Cæsar, whose authority is generally given for the statement that they were savages who painted their bodies in lieu of clothing and dwelt in huts in the woods, says also distinctly that the inhabitants were numerous, that they had chariots for fighting purposes, and gave assistance to his enemies in Gaul. The merchants also who traded thither, carried the news over to the Britons, enabling them to prepare to oppose him. He also says his soldiers were suddenly attacked whilst reaping corn. Now all this proves that there was a considerable amount of civilization in the part of this island nearest Gaul, and that the Romans did not in A.D. 43 introduce the first forms of civilization.
As is well known, Cæsar's stay was short in Britain, and I do not think he ever advanced beyond Verulam, where he made treaties with Cassivellaunus, restoring with his consent Mandubratius, who had applied to Cæsar for assistance to enable him to recover his kingdom and his capital Camulodunuin from which he had been dispossessed. Hostages were also exacted to prevent Cassivellaunus from disturbing or making war on Mandubratius or his people, the Trinobantes.
As far as the Roman state was concerned, peace prevailed in Britain for about a century after Ceasar's invasion, and then the Emperor Claudius determined to subjugate it, and add it to the Roman Empire. For this purpose he despatched in A.D. 43, a large army under the command of a favourite general, Aulus Plautius, to conquer it, and now comes into prominence British Camulodunum—our present Colchester.
At this period it must have become a very important place, as it appears to have been the point which Aulus Plautius endeavoured to reach, after crossing the Thames, most probably about Wallingford. Proceeding on his march, it would seem from the accounts of Tacitus and Dion Cassius, that he came to a river, possibly the Lea, and in endeavouring to cross it, had his army thrown into disorder and many of his men slain by the opposing Britons, who had the advantage of knowing the firmer spots in the marshes, where they could cross in safety.
Foiled in his endeavour to reach Camulodunum and finding what immense forces were opposed to him, he formed a camp near the river (perhaps the present London), where his ships could supply provisions for his army until relief came, and sent messengers to the Emperor Claudius, as he had been directed in case of need, for help. In due course this help came, in the person of the Emperor with a large army, and when their combined forces, numbering from 80 to 100,000 soldiers, besides cavalry and elephants, were ready, an advance was made against the force opposing the passage of the marshes.
Another portion of the army was detached to pass over the river by a bridge higher up, these took the Britons in the rear, with the result that the battle ended in the defeat of the natives, and the whole Roman force appeared on Essex soil and soon after captured the capital Camulodunum. As soon as the Emperor took possession of our town, he left his tent, which we know was a luxurious one, for the palace of the British King, where he took up his residence. By the capture of Camulodunum, the Southern Britons saw that it was impossible to further oppose the Roman forces and generally gave in their submission to the Conqueror, and all Essex, Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Middlesex, and other counties as far as the Severn, were incorporated into the Roman Empire.
It would appear that in many instances the native princes were allowed to retain their governments under the Roman State, as we read that in A.D. 62 there was a Queen of the
Iceni. Between A.D. 43 and A.D. 62, Colchester became the seat of the first colony in Britain and a large number of Veterans were planted here to preserve the conquest and to teach the Roman civilization ; but troubles were in store for the young municipality.
By cruel and overbearing conduct, the natives were made ripe for rebellion and Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, taking advantage of the absence of the Roman commander, Suetonius, who was endeavouring to conquer North Wales and the Island of Anglesey, gathered a large army and attacked the various Roman stations, and appeared before Camulodunum. There being no walls or defences, an unaccountable neglect, the inhabitants
took refuge in the temple, which had been built in honour of the Emperor Claudius, and after a two days' siege this was captured by the infuriated Britons and every inhabitant slaughtered. The castle probably occupies the site of this temple. The heroic Queen then went to Verulam which she destroyed with the inhabitants, and London, which we hear of for the first time, suffered the same fate. Fortunately for the Londoners, Suetonius, who was informed what was occurring, returned in time to enable such as could travel, to join his forces and escape the carnage. Altogether, it is said, Boadicea destroyed 70,000 Romans and Romanized Britons. After a time, Suetonius, by good generalship, allowed the Britons to attack his little army, under unfavourable circumstances for themselves and inflicted on them a terrible defeat, 80,000 Britons, men and women, being killed, and the patriotic queen it is said poisoned herself. This battle is generally stated to have occurred in the valley of the Lea, but I do not think there is any foundation for the idea. We know Suetonius met her after she had sacked and destroyed London, and that it is unlikely he had been into Essex, knowing as he did the fate of all the Roman garrison there. After Boadicea's defeat Camulodunum was again occupied by Romans, and there is every reason for supposing that the walls now encircling the town, were built shortly after this time. Dr. Duncan in his paper in the Essex Archæological Society's Transactions has clearly proved that they could not have been built later than the second century.
The builders of these walls threw up, on the inside of them, the earth removed in making the ditch on the outside, and in so doing covered up the remains of Roman houses, and in every one of these that I have seen excavated, fire was the destroying agent, and in some drainage excavations in Priory Street, charred wood was found under the walls themselves. Possibly, the whole of these are relics of Boadicea's
vengeance. Tacitus, and other classical writers, enable us to know more of the early history of Colchester than of any other town in the kingdom: unfortunately the later history is not clear, as although it must have been occupied by a very large Roman population, we find no mention of it in history until A.D. 921, when we find it was in the possession of the Danes and was besieged by Edward the Elder and captured by him, almost every man, woman, and child inhabiting it, being slain. It then almost disappears from history until after the Norman Conquest when we find it in possession of the conqueror's friend Eudo, dapifer or steward. This Eudo appears to have been a great and kind friend to the town.
He repaired the town walls; founded S. John's Abbey, and is said without any authority I think, to have built the castle. During the wars of the Barons, it was occupied sometimes by the king's forces and sometimes by the Barons, but the crowning disgrace of all occurred in 1218 in the early years of Henry the Third's reign, when Prince Louis the Dauphin of France, who was invited over by some of the Barons, captured and held it for some months, until he was driven out by the friends of the king. For many years after, Colchester does not appear to have contributed anything of importance to the general history of the kingdom.
During the Wars of the Roses, we know that she was alternately in the hands of whichever was the victorious party, and does not seem to have suffered much damage from either.
We may now pass by all the succeeding years, until we arrive at the period of more interest to the members of this Society, viz: 1570.
In this year 1570, an important change came over the trade and welfare of this town, by the arrival of a party of Dutchmen from Sandwich, comprising 11 households and numbering 50 persons, small and great, who had fled from their homes to avoid the persecutions and cruelties of the Duke of Alva. These were not, however, the earliest arrivals, as some had come as early as 1560, but we will take 1570 as the commencement, as during this year a letter (the terms of which are well known to members of this Society), was written by the bailiffs of the town to the Privy Council, asking their permission for these foreigners to remain, and also for the Council's advice on the matter.
The latter uses the term “of late," and this may have reference to the former arrivals as well as of those who came
from Sandwich. It is not known what the answer of the Privy Council was, but it must evidently have been favourable to their remaining, as we shortly find that 40 more families consisting of 150 persons also arrived and were provided for, and the book exhibited, being the Monday Court Book of the Corporation,"contains a carefully prepared list of the refugees in 1573, with the number in each family and the parishes where they were lodging or had settled themselves." Others appear to have joined them afterwards, for in 1584, the number of Dutchmen resident in Colchester numbered 1148.
The causes for their selection of Colchester may have beenfirst, convenience of access from its proximity to the Low Countries ; and secondly many of these strangers were weavers, or were engaged in some way or other in the wool trade, and Colchester at that time being one of the great centres of this trade would naturally be attractive to them. It is generally supposed that the commencement of the woollen manufacture in this district may be dated from this period, that is 1570, but it is not so, as Edward III induced a number of Flemings to settle in various parts of the Eastern Counties, to instruct his subjects in the art of woolweaving, so as to retain in this kingdom the profits attached to the manufacture of wool. Previously to his time, England, one of the largest producers of wool, sent most of it abroad for manufacture, principally to Flanders, as the Flemings were the greatest adepts in the manufacture. The Rev. Philip Morant in his History of Colchester, says, “ this town had an early share in those “ manufactures, for we find woolmongers, card makers, combers, “clothiers, weavers, fullers, dyers, in the reign of Edward III “and Richard II, mentioned in the Oath Book and the Court
Rolls, when the Dutch and with them the trade of Bay and “Say making, were first introduced into this town, will “ appear by these two authentic letters," and he then quotes a letter I have previously referred to, as well known to the Members of this Society, from the Bailiffs to the Privy Council, dated Aug. 1, 1570, signifying the arrival of certain Dutchmen from Sandwich into Colchester, and also a letter from the Privy Council giving directions for their protection and assistance. The Bailiffs' letter
that they weave “sackcloth, make needles, parchment, are weavours [sic, "in quotation from Morant] and such like, and that these “persons are of such sciences as are not usual with us and
* Cutts, Historic Towns, Colchester, Page 167. 2 Page 75. VOL. IV.NO. I.