Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Reign of Terror by a Wannabe King

Dover - Photo Copyright Janet Cameron

He wanted land, money and power. He wanted to be King. He even wanted to be Pope.

When King William conquered England in 1066, his half-brother, Odo, was Bishop of Bayeux, but that wasn't enough for him. He wanted, someday, to take big brother William's place. His ruthless pursuit of power made him one of the most hated of Dover's historical figures, and his reign of terror spread from Dover across the entire county of Kent.

Odo was greedy to acquire a large fortune in gold and treasure for the longed-for day when he became King. He set out to destroy all the Saxon landeowners and take over their estates. He gave their houses to his friends and family and, in his arrogance, he even confiscated the Guildhall from the King.

In the mid-eleventh century, Dover was a busy port with packet ships leaving regularly for France. This didn't worry Odo; he permitted one of his tenants to build a mill at the entrance to Dover Harbour. This caused such a disturbance to the sea that shipping was affected and many vessels were wrecked as a result.

Odo Pursues the Papacy

If all this wasn't enough, around 1082, he decided to ask the English knights to assist him in deposing the Pope so he could take the Papacy for himself. An army gathered to go to Italy, but then Odo was arrested, tried, and condemned under his secular title of the Earl of Kent. He was imprisoned in Normandy until 1087, when he was released by William, who generously restored Odo's earldom. Still, the unruly Odo continued his campaign against the new King, William Rufus, second son of William the Conqueror.

After William Rufus attacked Tonbridge Castle, which was held by Gilbert de Clare, a cohort of Odo's, he then marched on Pevensey Castle, and the Earldom of Kent ceased to exist. So, after thirteen years of terrorising the country, Odo was exiled, and he died in France in 1097.

Odo wasn't the only important personage to benefit from the miseries of others during his lifetime. When men were fined for adultery, the King pocketed the cash, and also received half the property of those condemned to death. Adulterous women had their fines paid to the Archbishop.

Lee, Christopher, This Sceptred Isle, Penguin Books, 1997.
Local Studies Resources, Dover, Margate, Westage and Birchington.

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