William the Duke of Normandy invaded Anglo-Saxon England in 1066. Read about the events that changed english history in the years following the battle of hastings.
Anglo-Saxon’s had ruled England for 600 years before the arrival of William, Duke of Normandy. In that time they divided the land into ‘shires’each of which was governed by a ‘shire reeve’ , the original ‘sheriff’. Over the centuries this developed into a sophisticated system with each shire being self-governing. England became the most organised state in Western Europe. The Norman conquest turned this world upside down.
• William replaced the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy with Normans. He took their land as his own property which he then shared in part with the 170 barons who had fought for him at Hastings.
• The barons in turn controlled the country and provided knights for William’s army. The knights had to serve the king for 40 days a year.
• The knights needed a reliable agricultural workforce so they had peasants to work the land who in turn gave a share of their produce to their lord. It was the beginning of the Feudal System.
• As a result military service became part of the way of life after 1066. People became the property of the manor. The simple rents of ale and barley paid by tenant farmers, which had been the practiced by the Anglo- Saxon system, were now supplemented by military service. In the new system, those at the bottom suffered most, losing all their rights as free men and coming to be regarded as mere property - assets belonging to the manor. To all intents and purposes, they were no more than slaves bound to their lord.
• In order to establish control over the Anglo-Saxons,( there were around one and a half million of them and only ten thousand Norman soldiers) the Normans built castles to protect their soldiers and as garrisons for their armies. These castles were built all over England. They were made in haste initially with wood and a moat but later great stone castles were built. Windsor castle, Bamburgh , Barnard, Walvesey Castle and most notably The White Tower in London.
The Laws of the Land
• Before the arrival of the Normans trial was by ordeal or common oath. Punishment was harsh and often grisly. The Normans introduced trial by a jury of 12 men.
• William, who was supposedly a hunting man, introduced Forest Laws which gave him sole rights to hunt in his newly acquired royal forests. The peasantry was thus deprived of valuable food sources in times of bad harvests and poaching from the king was punished by maiming and other harsh measures. A survey of the whole country was carried out to establish exactly who owned what , it was said that the survey was so thorough that every pig in the land was counted. The Domesday Book, as the survey was called, demonstrated that the old freedoms were gone.
• The Anglo Saxons spoke Old English which was close to Germanic, but after 1066 Anglo-Norman a dialect of Old French became the chosen language of the aristocracy. French words entered into the language, some alternatives to the English ones, others replacing them.
To conclude, the Norman impact on England was a mixture of gain and loss. Whether the Saxons or the Normans were ruling made little difference to the turbulent times in which they lived. War was a way of life and England was under constant attack from the Danes and the Vikings. William’s professional soldiers brought some stability to England. However the Battle of Hastings was the first of many lesser battles between the English and their invaders.
The most notable battle was fought by Hereward the Wake at the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire in 1070. The son of a wealthy Saxon family, he took up arms after his family land was taken by the Normans. He lost the battle and became an outlaw.
The Normans created a strong connection between France and England opening the country to enrichment from European culture, language and influence.
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