The Normans:


The Norman Conquest of England:

The conquest of England began on the 28th September 1066 with the invasion of England by William, Duke of Normandy, who became known as William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th October 1066, when he defeated King Harold II of England; unfortunately, for Harold, his army had been badly depleted in the English victory at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Northern England on the 25th September 1066 over the army of King Harald III of Norway; by early 1071, William had secured control of most of England, although rebellions and resistance continued until approximately 1088.

The Norman conquest was a pivotal event in English history; it largely removed the native ruling class, replacing it with a foreign, French-speaking monarchy, aristocracy, and clerical hierarchy; this, in turn, brought about a transformation of the English language and the culture of England in a new era often referred to as Norman England.

By bringing England under the control of rulers originating in France, the Norman conquest linked the country more closely with continental Europe, lessened Scandinavian influence, and also set the stage for a rivalry with France that would continue intermittently for many centuries; it also had important consequences for the rest of the British Isles, paving the way for further Norman conquests in Wales and Ireland and the extensive penetration of the aristocracy of Scotland by Norman and other French-speaking families, with the accompanying spread of continental institutions and cultural influences.

Norman Origins:

In 911, the French Carolingian ruler Charles the Simple allowed a group of Vikings under their leader Rollo to settle in Normandy as part of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte; in exchange for the land, the Norsemen under Rollo were expected to provide protection along the coast against future Viking invaders; their settlement proved successful, and the Vikings in the region became known as the "Northmen" from which "Normandy" is derived.

The Normans quickly adapted to the indigenous culture, renouncing paganism and converting to Christianity; they adopted the langue d'oïl of their new home and added features from their own Norse language, transforming it into the Norman language; they further blended into the culture by intermarrying with the local population; they also used the territory granted them as a base to extend the frontiers of the duchy to the west, annexing territory including the Bessin, the Cotentin Peninsula and Avranches.

In 1002 King Æthelred II of England married Emma, the sister of Richard II, Duke of Normandy; their son Edward the Confessor, who spent many years in exile in Normandy, succeeded to the English throne in 1042; this led to the establishment of a powerful Norman interest in English politics, as Edward drew heavily on his former hosts for support, bringing in Norman courtiers, soldiers, and clerics and appointing them to positions of power, particularly in the Church; childless and embroiled in conflict with the formidable Godwin, Earl of Wessex and his sons, Edward may also have encouraged Duke William of Normandy's ambitions for the English throne.

Reasons for the Invasion of England:

When King Edward died at the beginning of 1066, the lack of a clear heir led to a disputed succession in which several contenders laid claim to the throne of England; Edward's immediate successor was the Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, the richest and most powerful of the English aristocracy, who was elected king by the Witenagemot of England and crowned by the Archbishop of York, Ealdred, although Norman propaganda claimed the ceremony was performed by Stigand, the uncanonically elected Archbishop of Canterbury.

However, Harold was at once challenged by two powerful neighbouring rulers; Duke William claimed that he had been promised the throne by King Edward and that Harold had sworn agreement to this; Harald III of Norway, commonly known as Harald Hardrada, also contested the succession; his claim to the throne was based on an agreement between his predecessor Magnus I of Norway, and the earlier King of England Harthacanute, whereby if either died without heir, the other would inherit both England and Norway; both William and Harald at once set about assembling troops and ships for an invasion.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge:

In early 1066, Harold's estranged and exiled brother Tostig Godwinson raided southeastern England with a fleet he had recruited in Flanders, later joined by other ships from Orkney; threatened by Harold's fleet, Tostig moved north and raided in East Anglia and Lincolnshire, but he was driven back to his ships by the brothers Edwin, Earl of Mercia and Morcar, Earl of Northumbria; deserted by most of his followers, he withdrew to Scotland, where he spent the summer recruiting fresh forces.

King Harald III of Norway invaded northern England in early September, leading a fleet of over 300 ships carrying perhaps 15,000 men; Harald's army was further augmented by the forces of Tostig, who threw his support behind the Norwegian king's bid for the throne; advancing on York, the Norwegians occupied the city after defeating a northern English army under Edwin and Morcar on the 20th September at the Battle of Fulford.

Harold had spent the summer on the south coast with a large army and fleet waiting for William to invade, but the bulk of his forces were fyrdmen (militia) that needed to harvest their crops, so on the 8th September 1066 Harold dismissed them; though then learning of the Norwegian invasion, he rushed north, gathering forces as he went and took the Norwegians by surprise and defeating them in the exceptionally bloody Battle of Stamford Bridge on the 25th September 1066; Harald of Norway and Tostig were killed and the Norwegians suffered such horrific losses that only 24 of the original 300 ships were required to carry away the survivors; the English victory came at great cost, however, as Harold's army was left in a battered and weakened state and the English forces were at least two weeks march away from where Duke William's invasion force were due to land.

The Norman Invasion:

Duke William assembled a large invasion fleet, not just from Normandy, but from all over France, including large contingents from Brittany and Flanders; he mustered his forces at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and the army was ready to cross by about the 12th August 1066; however, the crossing was delayed for some reason, maybe because of unfavourable weather or because of the desire to avoid being intercepted by the powerful English fleet, so the Normans did not cross the Channel until a few days after Harold's victory over the Norwegians; following the dispersal of Harold's naval force, they landed at Pevensey in Sussex on the 28th September 1066 and erected a wooden castle at Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding area.

The Battle of Hastings:

Marching south after the news of William's landing, Harold paused briefly at London to gather more troops, then advanced to meet William; they fought at the Battle of Hastings on the 14th October 1066; the English army was drawn up in a shieldwall on top of Senlac Hill and withstood a series of Norman attacks for several hours but was depleted by the losses suffered when troops on foot pursuing retreating Norman cavalry were repeatedly caught out in the open by counter attacks; in the evening the defence finally collapsed and Harold was killed, along with his brothers Earl Gyrth and Earl Leofwine.

After his victory at Hastings, William expected to receive the submission of the surviving English leaders, but instead Edgar Atheling was proclaimed king by the Witenagemot, with the support of Earls Edwin and Morcar, Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Ealdred, the Archbishop of York; William therefore advanced, marching around the coast of Kent to London; he defeated an English force that attacked him at Southwark, but he was unable to storm London Bridge and therefore sought to reach the capital by a more circuitous route.

He moved up the Thames valley to cross the river at Wallingford, Berkshire; while there, he received the submission of Stigand; William then travelled northeast along the Chilterns, before advancing towards London from the northwest, fighting further engagements against forces from the city; having failed to muster an effective military response, Edgar's leading supporters lost their nerve and the English leaders surrendered to William at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire; William was acclaimed King of England and crowned by Ealdred on 25th December 1066, in Westminster Abbey.
Norman Warrior

The Harrying of the North:

Despite this submission, local resistance continued to erupt for several years and the North had not yet been conquered; in 1067 rebels in Kent launched an abortive attack on Dover Castle in combination with Eustace II of Boulogne; in the same year the Shropshire landowner Eadric the Wild, in alliance with the Welsh rulers of Gwynedd and Powys, raised a revolt in western Mercia, fighting Norman forces based in Hereford; in 1068 William besieged rebels in Exeter, including Harold's mother Gytha and despite suffering heavy losses William managed to negotiate the town's surrender.

Later in the year Edwin and Morcar raised a revolt in Mercia with Welsh assistance, while Earl Gospatric led a rising in Northumbria, which had not yet been occupied by the Normans; these rebellions rapidly collapsed as William moved against them, building castles and installing garrisons as he had already done in the south; Edwin and Morcar again submitted, while Gospatric fled to Scotland, as did Edgar the Atheling and his family, who may have been involved in these revolts; meanwhile Harold's sons, who had taken refuge in Ireland, raided Somerset, Devon and Cornwall from the sea.

Early in 1069 the newly installed Norman Earl of Northumbria Robert de Comines and several hundred soldiers accompanying him were massacred at Durham; the Northumbrian rebellion was joined by Edgar, Gospatric, Siward Barn and other rebels who had taken refuge in Scotland; the castellan of York, Robert fitzRichard, was defeated and killed, and the rebels besieged the Norman castle at York; William hurried with an army from the south, defeated the rebels outside York and pursued them into the city, massacring the inhabitants and bringing the revolt to an end; he built a second castle at York, strengthened Norman forces in Northumbria and then returned to the south; a subsequent local uprising was crushed by the garrison of York; Harold's sons launched a second raid from Ireland but were defeated in Devon by Norman forces under Count Brian, a son of Eudes, Count of Penthièvre.

In the late summer of 1069 a large fleet sent by Sweyn II of Denmark arrived off the coast of England, sparking a new wave of rebellions across the country; after abortive attempted raids in the south, the Danes joined forces with a new Northumbrian uprising, which was also joined by Edgar, Gospatric and the other exiles from Scotland as well as Earl Waltheof; the combined Danish and English forces defeated the Norman garrison at York, seized the castles and took control of Northumbria, although a raid into Lincolnshire led by Edgar was defeated by the Norman garrison of Lincoln.

At the same time resistance flared up again in western Mercia, where the forces of Eadric the Wild, together with his Welsh allies and further rebel forces from Cheshire and Shropshire, attacked the castle at Shrewsbury; in the south-west rebels from Devon and Cornwall attacked the Norman garrison at Exeter, but were repulsed by the defenders and scattered by a Norman relief force under Count Brian; other rebels from Dorset, Somerset and neighbouring areas besieged Montacute Castle but were defeated by a Norman army gathered from London, Winchester and Salisbury under Geoffrey of Coutances.

Meanwhile William attacked the Danes, who had moored for the winter south of the Humber in Lincolnshire and drove them back to the north bank; leaving Robert of Mortain in charge in Lincolnshire, he turned west and defeated the Mercian rebels in battle at Stafford; when the Danes again crossed to Lincolnshire the Norman forces there again drove them back across the Humber; William advanced into Northumbria, defeating an attempt to block his crossing of the swollen River Aire at Pontefract; the Danes again fled at his approach, and he occupied York; he bought off the Danes, who agreed to leave England in the spring and through the winter of 1069 to 1070 his forces systematically devastated Northumbria in the Harrying of the North, subduing all resistance.

In the spring of 1070, having secured the submission of Waltheof and Gospatric and driven Edgar and his remaining supporters back to Scotland, William returned to Mercia, where he based himself at Chester and crushed all remaining resistance in the area before returning to the south; Sweyn II of Denmark arrived in person to take command of his fleet and renounced the earlier agreement to withdraw, sending troops into the Fens to join forces with English rebels led by Hereward, who were based on the Isle of Ely; soon, however, Sweyn accepted a further payment of Danegeld from William and returned home.

After the departure of the Danes the Fenland rebels remained at large, protected by the marshes and early in 1071 there was a final outbreak of rebel activity in the area; Edwin and Morcar again turned against William and while Edwin was soon betrayed and killed, Morcar reached Ely, where he and Hereward were joined by exiled rebels who had sailed from Scotland; William arrived with an army and a fleet to finish off this last pocket of resistance; after some costly failures the Normans managed to construct a pontoon to reach the Isle of Ely, defeated the rebels at the bridgehead and stormed the island, marking the effective end of English resistance.

Control of England:

Once England had been conquered, the Normans faced many challenges in maintaining control; the Normans were few in number compared to the native English population; historians estimate the number of Norman settlers at around 8,000, but Norman in this instance includes not just natives of Normandy, but settlers from other parts of France; the Normans overcame this numerical deficit by adopting innovative methods of control.

First, unlike Cnut the Great, who had rewarded his followers with money rather than displacing native landholders, William's followers expected and received lands and titles in return for their service in the invasion; however, William claimed ultimate possession of virtually all the land in England over which his armies had given him de facto control and asserted the right to dispose of it as he saw fit.

Henceforth, all land was "held" from the King; initially, William confiscated the lands of all English lords who had fought and died with Harold and redistributed most of them to his Norman supporters (though some families were able to "buy back" their property and titles by petitioning William); these initial confiscations led to revolts, which resulted in more confiscations, in a cycle that continued virtually unbroken for five years after the Battle of Hastings; to put down and prevent further rebellions the Normans constructed castles and fortifications in unprecedented numbers, initially mostly on the motte-and-bailey pattern; historian Robert Liddiard remarks that "to glance at the urban landscape of Norwich, Durham or Lincoln is to be forcibly reminded of the impact of the Norman invasion".

Even after active resistance to his rule had died down, William and his barons continued to use their positions to extend and consolidate Norman control of the country; for example, if an English landholder died without heirs, the king (or in the case of lower-level landholders, one of his barons) could designate the heir and often chose a successor from Normandy; William and his barons also exercised tighter control over inheritance of property by widows and daughters, often forcing marriages to Normans.

A measure of William's success in taking control is that, from 1072 until the Capetian conquest of Normandy in 1204, William and his successors were largely absentee rulers; for example, after 1072, William spent more than 75% of his time in France rather than in England; while he needed to be personally present in Normandy to defend the realm from foreign invasion and to put down internal revolts, he was able to set up royal administrative structures that enabled him to rule England from a distance, by "writ".

Keeping the Norman lords together and loyal as a group was just as important, since any friction could give the native English a chance to oust their minority Anglo-French-speaking lords; one way William accomplished this cohesion was by giving out land in a piecemeal fashion and punishing unauthorised holdings; a Norman lord typically had property spread out all over England and Normandy and not in a single geographic block.

A direct consequence of the invasion was the near-total elimination of the old English aristocracy and the loss of English control over the Catholic Church in England William systematically dispossessed English landowners and conferred their property on his continental followers; the Domesday Book meticulously documents the impact of this colossal programme of expropriation, revealing that by 1086 only about 5% of land in England south of the Tees was left in English hands; even this tiny residue was further diminished in the decades that followed, the elimination of native landholding being most complete in southern parts of the country.

Natives were also soon purged from high governmental and ecclesiastical office; after 1075 all earldoms were held by Normans, while Englishmen were only occasionally appointed as sheriffs. Likewise in the Church senior English office-holders were either expelled from their positions or kept in place for their lifetimes but replaced by foreigners when they died; by 1096 no bishopric was held by any Englishman, while English abbots became uncommon, especially in the larger monasteries.

Following the conquest, large numbers of Anglo-Saxons, including groups of nobles, fled the country; many chose to flee to Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavia; members of King Harold Godwinson's family sought refuge at Royal courts in Ireland and Denmark and from there plotted unsuccessful invasions of England; the largest single exodus occurred in the 1070s when a group of Anglo-Saxons in a fleet of 235 ships sailed for the Byzantine Empire; the empire became a popular destination for many English nobles and soldiers as it would have been known that the Byzantines were in need of mercenaries; the English became the predominant element in the elite Varangian Guard, hitherto a largely Scandinavian unit, from which the emperor's bodyguard was drawn and continued to serve the empire until the early 15th century; some of the English migrants were settled in Byzantine frontier regions on the Black Sea coast and established towns with names such as "New London" and "New York".

Women had some rights before the Norman Conquest that were not present in England by circa 1100; the Germanic practice of the Fore-mother was brought by the Anglo-Saxons; women would begin to lose some rights after the Danish invasion of the early eleventh century, in particular, through King Cnut's revision of laws; they may have lost the right to consent to marriage, for example, and widows lost the right to remarry; the Norman Conquest gradually influenced the legal position of women in England; the Norman kings distinguished between aristocrats and commoners and a woman's place in her life-cycle, in general, brought changes in opportunities; widows were able to remarry and, in general, control property in ways that married women and maidens could not; the greatest rights were generally available to women having access to land.

Before the Normans arrived, Anglo-Saxon England was more sophisticated than the government in Normandy; all of England was divided into administrative units called shires with subdivisions, the royal court was the centre of government and royal courts existed which worked to secure the rights of free men; Shires were run by officials known as "shire reeve" or "sheriff"; the shires tended to be somewhat autonomous and lacked coordinated control; English government made heavy use of written documentation, which was unusual for kingdoms in Western Europe and made for more efficient governance than word of mouth.

The English developed permanent physical locations of government, whereas most medieval governments were always on the move, holding court wherever the weather and food or other matters were best at the moment; this practice limited the potential size and sophistication of a government body to whatever could be packed on a horse and cart, including the treasury and library; England had a permanent treasury at Winchester, from which a permanent government bureaucracy and document archive began to grow; one major reason for the strength of the English monarchy was the wealth of the kingdom which was built on the English system of taxation, which included a land tax, or the geld; English coinage was also superior to most of the other currency in use in northwestern Europe and the ability to mint coins was a royal monopoly.

This sophisticated medieval form of government was handed over to the Normans and was the foundation of further developments; although they kept the framework of the government, they did make changes in the personnel, although at first the new king attempted to keep some natives in the government; by the end of William's reign, most of the officials of government and the royal household were Normans, not English.

The English Language:

The language of official documents also changed, from Old English to Latin; one innovation was the introduction of the forest laws and the setting aside of large sections of England as royal forest subject to the newly introduced forest law; the Normans centralised the autonomous shire system; the Domesday survey exemplifies the practical codification that enabled Norman assimilation of conquered territories through central control of a census; it was the first kingdom wide census taken in Europe since the time of the Romans and enabled more efficient taxation of the Normans' new realm; systems of accounting grew in sophistication and a government accounting office called the Exchequer was established by Henry I and in 1150, some years after Henry's death, the Exchequer was established at the Palace of Westminster.

One of the most obvious changes was the introduction of Anglo-Norman, a northern dialect of Old French, as the language of the ruling classes in England, displacing Old English; french words entered the English language and a further sign of the shift was the usage of French names instead of English ones; male names changed first, with names such as William, Robert, Richard, becoming common quickly; female names changed more slowly; one area where the Norman invasion did not change naming practices was in placenames, which unlike the earlier invasions by the Vikings and Cnut, did not change much after the Norman Conquest; this predominance was further reinforced and complicated in the mid-twelfth century by an influx of followers of the Angevin dynasty, speaking a more mainstream dialect of French; not until the fourteenth century would English regain its former primacy, while the use of French at court continued into the fifteenth century.

By this time, English had itself been profoundly transformed, developing into a starkly different Middle English, which formed the basis for the modern language; during the centuries when the elite spoke French, a large proportion of the words in the English language had disappeared and been replaced by French words, leading to the present hybrid tongue in which an English core vocabulary is combined with a largely French abstract and technical vocabulary; the grammatical structures of the language had also changed dramatically.

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