& the Isle of Ely


Note: All entries in this colour cover other areas as well as Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely and can be regarded as general historic information.






The east end presbytery and western galilee porch of Ely Cathedral were built by 13th century bishops, Eustace and Hugh of Northwold. Under episcopal orders a dozen warehouses, withn workshops and factories were build at Brad Hythe, Ely. Ely had its own fair on the 17th October (St. Audrey's or Ethelreda's Day), never a borough, it was a commercial centre surpassed only by the cities at the fen edge. Stourbridge Fair at Cambridge was reputedly the largest in the country, held in September over several weeks, it became a shanty town of booths and tents visited by merchants from all over Europe.


Nov 1209

King John excommunicated by Pope Innocent III.


circa 1200-1259

Paris, Matthew - English chronicler. He entered St Albans Abbey 1217, and wrote a valuable history of England up to 1259.



Cambridge became a royal borough, with charter of incorporation from King John granting rights of self-government and justice by peers. Its price was 250 marks and a contribution, in war time, of 20 soldiers to the military. A Merchant's Guilld was established.

After the riots in Oxford city respected academics and scholars arrived in Cambridge. This was the starting point of the 'university', which at this time was a gathering of respected scholars, sometimes living together for convenience, attended by students drawn by their reputation. Few students graduated. Many wandered between universities, seeking the best education or to escape debts. Academics also roamed.


15 Jun 1215

King John signs Magna Carta.



When King John's Army marched against Bury St Edmunds in about 1216, the barons fled to the Isle and fortified the entrances. On that occasion the Isle's natural defences turned against the rebels. The marsh freezing over, allowing two columns of royal soldiers to cross at Earith. They overcame resistance and plundered the cathedral and outlying area.


18 Oct 1216

John's reign of England ends.


28 Oct 1216

Henry III becomes King of England.



John of Fountains made Bishop of Ely



Further influx of scholars and students from Paris.



Geoffrey de Burgo made Bishop of Ely



Hugh of Northwold made Bishop of Ely


circa 1235

In Cambridge tournaments and other rascous entertainments were banned from the area for fear of disturbing student studies. Local resentment to these restrictions was very strong causing frequent attacks on 'clerkes'.



Further influx of scholars and students from Oxford. Cambridge now became a large, respected part of 13th century scholarly life.



University College,Oxford founded.



William of Kilkenny made Bishop of Ely



In 1256 Henry Ill was worried about the defensive qualities of the Isle of Ely for rebels. Long before conflict in May 1260 the King ordered the Church at Ely to secure the entrances to the Isle and guard them from sunset to sunrise so that no unlawful person could enter.



Hugh of Balsham made Bishop of Ely



First university powers were granted by the crown to allow the discipling of students,m in 1261 proctors were introduced after riots between northern and southern students.


14 May 1264

Henry III captured by Simon de Montfort at Lewes.


4 Aug 1265

Battle of Evesham.



In 1266, after resisting at Kenilworth a force of rebels, supporters of Simon de Montfort, gathered under the banner 'The Disinherited' taking charge of the Isle of Ely and from there began to pillage the upland. These rebels were particularly notorious and had no regard of persons or place, seizing the wealthy and holding them to ransom. They carried off to their base at Ely whatever they could find including corn and malt, oxen and sheep. They entered Cambridge and compelled the burgesses to pay fines of 300 marks or see the town burn to ashes. The rebels even reached Norwich and plundered it for a whole night and morning.

By 1267 this disruption reduced the county's taxable value to zero. This time, howver, it was the heat, in the form of an exceptionally dry summer, rather than the icy cold, that allowed royal supporters to cross the marshes and fight their way to Ely.

Cambridgeshire thereafter became a favourite royal visiting place. Edward I and II often stayed at the bishop's palace, the Biggin at Fen Ditton.



The university and borough ('town and gown') assumed joint responsibility for public order.


16 Nov 1272

Henry III's reign of England ends.


17 Nov 1272

Edward I becomes King of England.



Levy on export of wool and leather (origin of customs duties).



The Hundred Rolls describes Cambridge as having 17 parishes, 500 houses and 75 shops. 70 houses remain in the old town, around the castle; the new cetre lay about the market, south of the Cam. Cambridge's boundaries were defined by King's Ditch, a defensive earthwork strengthened during the troubles of Henry III with new bridges and earthworks. A generation later the old, wooden, Norman motte-and bailey castle was replaced by a stone fortress, with curtain wlling, a abrican, two towers and a large gatehouse. Inside the castle was contained a great hall, domestic buildings and a prison. This work took until 1300 to complete but the castle dominated the city. To justify this Cambridge received, by royal fiat, the right to elect two burgesses, each serving in parliament as common members at the expense of a shilling a day.



The first Cambridge college, Peterhouse was founded according to the will of Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely. The college was established with a Master and six Fellows, with an endowed income linked to membership. Students were not housed at the college but lived in hostels.



John de Langton first recorded Master of the Rolls
John of Kirkby made Bishop of Ely.



William of Louth made Bishop of Ely
Expulsion of the Jews from England.



Ralph Walpole made Bishop of Ely


Late 13th century

High tides during this period brought enormous devastation to the siltlands. Settlers threw up banks of earth against the danger, the greatest bank being the Leverington Sea Wall which snaked around the wash with breakwaters at every furlong. Culverts through the bank allowed fen drainage at low tide. These defences were important as tides could have flooded fens in Waterbeach and overwhelmed islands such as Thorney and Whittlesey.


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