William The Conqueror | The Norman Conquest of England.

William The Conqueror

William The Conqueror

The Normans.-While some of the Northmen were making settlements along the English coast, others were raiding the countries on the opposite side of the English Channel. The great empire of Charlemagne lay defenceless while his grandsons fought each other for the crown, and the Northmen sailed with impunity up the rivers to plunder and to kill.

The settlement of the Northmen in France began in A.D. 91I. In that year a Viking chieftain named Rollo was given dominion over the region of the lower Seine by Charles the Simple, one of the last of the Carlo- vingian kings. Christianity for himself and his followers, and acknowledged the king of France as his overlord.

The district ruled by Rollo became known as Normandy (Northman-dy). In it the Normans rapidly settled down, acquired the French language and Culture, and made their new home a Christian land, famous for its fine churches, monasteries and schools. Throughout their history it is to be noted that the Normans possessed to a remarkable extent the gift of adapting themselves to a new environment.

Nevertheless, for all their new culture, the roving Spirit was still alive among them. The Norman knights were driven by their love or adventure to undertake daring congquests. They established them- selves in southern Italy and in Sicly at the end of the eleventh century. Their most important undertaking was the conquest of England 1n the years between 1066 and 1087.

The Norman Conquest of England.

-By the beginning of the eleventh Century iriendship was iirmly established between the dukes of Normandy and the English kings. In 1002 King Ethelred the Unready (that is, the “Redeless or “the man without counsel ) married the Norman lady Emma, daughter of duke Kichard the Good of Normandy. heir son, Edward, known later as the Confessor because of his piety, was educated in Normandy. His chiet interest religion, and when, in 1042, he came to the Bnglish throne, he seemed to his subjects to be “not an English king but a French monk.

Both his religious zeal and his Norman Sympathies affected the future of England. He built at Westminster, in London, a monastery and a church, on the site of the present Westminster Abbey. In order to superintend the building. He had a new palace built for himself two miles up the Thames. There he resided and there the Witan assembled. Gradually the centre of government shifted from Winchester, the old West Saxon capital, to Westminster, which from thenceforth became the centre of English ecclesiastical and political development. This “royal fiitting Westminster,” moreover, the importance of London, and helped to establish the future greatness of the city.

Edward’s Norman upbringing led him to adopt a policy which had an even greater influence on English history. He filled the court and the Church with Norman favourites, and Saxon nobles who hoped for favour at court were obliged to use Norman speech and wear clothes of the Norman pattern. These foreign favourites opened the way for a Norman invasion of England, and the duke of Normandy, William, grandson of duke Richard the Good and known to the opportunity thus offered and make a bid for the English throne.

In pursuance of this scheme he paid a visit to his cousin, the English king On arriving in England with a splendid retinue he found his fellow-countrymen established everywhere. A Norman commanded the fleet which met him at Dover, Normans garrisoned Dover castle and held a fortress at Canterbury, and throughout his progress to London he was welcomed at every stage by Norman knights, prelates and burghers.

Edward received him warmly, and the Norman nobles of the court, who looked on William as their lord, treated him with a greater deference than they showed to the king himself. William, who was a man o great determination and force of character, rapidly obtained a hold over Edward, and before he left succeeded in securing from him a secret promise that he should succeed to the throne. This promise was in reality no binding promise at all, since the succession to the English throne was decided, not by the king, but by the Witan.

William L., King of England. –

The Conqueror set himself immediately to subdue Kent and sussex by ravaging the lands of all who held out against him. Then he marched towards London and burned Southwark, but, as he wished to be received peaceably as king, he proceeded westwards, crossed the Thames at Wallingtord and wheeled round on Berkhampsted. Londoners were terrified into submission, and promised to take William as king.

On Christmas Day 1066 William was crowned in the Abbey as lawful king of England. He wished the ceremony to be carried out in accordance with English tradition, so that he might be said to rule by the will of the English people. But his intention was frustrated by an incident which reveals the troubled state of men’s minds at the time, Before the coronation took place the archbishop asked, first in Norman-French and then in English, whether the men of Normandy and the people of England chose William for their king.

Each time he asked, the people shouted in reply; and so loud was the shout that the Norman soldiers stationed outside the Abbey thought their leader was being attacked and set fire to some wooden buildings to distract attention from William. The congregation, Normans and English alike, hurried out to extinguish the flames, and William was left alone in the dark church, not knowing what was happening, but hearing only the yells and the crackling of the flames outside, The arch bishop placed the crown upon his head, and in this strange way William I. of England was crowned.

The first five years of William’s reign were spent in subduing England. At first the king adopted a mild and conciliatory policy, but as one rebellion after another broke out William’s natural harshness of disposition, and the need for making his power felt at once, made him put down these revolts with fierce cruelty. Everywhere men were mutilated and put to death, and whole districts, especially in the north, were systematically laid waste.

The last of these revolts was led by Hereward the Wake, who for many months held out against the conqueror in the Isle of Ely. He was finally captured, but was treated with all honour by the king, who respected his indomitable courage. Though only an outlaw, Hereward has become a hero at English romance. Such revolts, nevertheless, however dauntless their leaders, were doomed to failure, since only a united England could have faced the Conqueror, and England had never yet known unity.

Having conquered England, William began to administer the land with the greatest care and thoroughness. An example of this 1s the famous Domesday Book, compiled during 1085 and 1086. It was a minute inventory of all taxable property in England, and went into such detail that the English were amazed and indignant. Wrote an English monk of Peterborough, “He sent over all England into each shire his men, and bade them find out how many hundred hides were in the shire (i.e., its acreage), or what the king himself had of land or cattle in the shire, or what rights he ought to have…..He also caused to be written down how much land his archbishops had, and his bishops, and his abbots and his earls, and what or how much each landholder in England had in land and in cattle, and how much money it was worth.

He caused these things to be enquired into so very narrowly that there was not a single hide nor a yard of land, nor so much as-it is a shame to tell, though he thought it no shame to do- an ox nor a cow nor a swine left that was not set down in his writ” The results of this enquiry were embodied in Doomsday Book, so called because it was no more possible to appeal irom it than from the Last Judgment, the Day of Doom.

William ruled England for twenty-one years. During that time it became, under his strong hand, a truly united realm in 1087 he crossed to Normandy, where as duke he himself owed allegiance to the King of France. A war broke out between William and his overlord concerning the possession of a certain district. William captured and destroyed the city of Mantes, but as he was riding among the smoking Tins h1s horse stepped on some red-hot Cinders and stumbled, flinging his rider against his saddle with such force that he Sustained injuries of which he died. His body was carried to Caen for interment.

The chief characteristic of William’s personality was his indomitable will, which achieved the almost incredible feat of the conquest of England by a small duchy no larger than one of its own counties, and also brought about a unification of the conquered land which was the beginning of England as we know it.

Effects of the Norman Conquest.-

(i)he coming of the Normans com- pleted the work which the Saxons and the Danes had begun of making England a Nordic country.

(ii) The close connection between England and Normandy, as a result of the conquest, brought England, hitherto isolated, into the full current of European aftairs.

(iii) The authority of the Pope was much increased in England.

(iv) The Normans rapidly mixed with their new neighbours as they had done after their settlement în Normandy. In Normandy a century and a halt had turned Normans into French. The same period sufficed in England to turn Normans into Englishmen.


Edward the Confessor : Normandy is the part of France facing Wessex. The first Normans were Vikings who settled in that part of France While others were making their homes in England. The French had learned from the Romans how to build large houses and beautiful churches, how to enjoy books and pictures, and now to make fine clothes and to cook rich food. They lived more comfortable lives than the English, When the pirate Northmen had settled in their corner of France, they soon copied the French, not only m their speech but also in their ways of living. They became Chris- tians, and many beautiful monasteries and churches were built in Normandy.

The rulers of Normandy were called dukes, and one of these dukes had a daughter named Emma, Who married Ethelred the Unready, the king who fled from England. It was their son Edward who was invited to go back and rule England. Edward had been brought up in Normandy and he liked the Normans better than the English. When he came to the throne in he 1042 filled his court with Normans, for he preferred their polite manners and learned talk to the coarse ways and blunt speech or the English. Edward was called the Confessor, or the Saint, because of his holy life. He was more interested in building churches than in governing England, and the result was that he was not useful as a king, for he left his earls to rule the land.

One day a notable man from over the sea visited Edward the Confessor’s court. This was his cousin Duke William of Normandy, He was a rather stout, but very strong man, With close-cropped hair, a Small moustache ana a terTitying, loud voice. Edward was glad to see his cousin, and he made him most welcome. Before he went away Edward promised that William should be king of England when he himself was dead. He had no right to make this promise, for the king of England was chosen by the Witan, the Council of wise men who helped to rule the land.

Now the English did not love the Normans. They hated to see foreigners at the i8 court, and they hoped that the next king Would be a true Englishman. The man they wanted to rule over them was Harold, earl of Wessex, Harold was a tall, handsome man, and so much an Englishman that the people were very proud of him. Harold’s brother Gurth was the earl of East Anglia, and another brother, Tostig, was made earl of Northumbrian. The Northumbrians, how- ever, did not like the rule of Tostig, so they chose in his place Morcar whose brother was earl of Mercia. Tostig blamed his brother Harold for this treatment, and later Tostig revenged himself. You see, then, that it was not Edward the Confessor, but several earls who ruled the land; and between the earls there was a good deal of jealousy and quarrelling.

Edward the Confessor died in 1065 and was buried at Westminster in the fine abbey church which he had caused to be built. Harold was at once chosen king by the Witan, and was crowned at Westminster.

The Conquest.- As soon as William of Normandy heard the news of Harold’s coronation, he claimed the throne of England. He said that Edward had promised him the crown, and that Harold had also made a promise to him. Some time before, Harold had been wrecked on the French coast and had been given up to William, who kept him a prisoner until, placing his hands on a chest containing relics of holy saints, Harold swore solemnly to help William. The duke received a banner from the Pope, and with it the Pope’s blessing on his enterprise. plunder and land to his nobles and to all who would follow him. During the spring and summer, he gathered together a large army of nobles and adventurers, and a great fleet of ships. Harold, too, prepared his bodyguard, his thanes and the peasants of the southern shires.

William The Conqueror

When the harvest William promised plenty of time came round and William had not arrived, the peasants began to go home to cut their grain. Then news was brought that Harold’s brother Tostig had joined with a noted sea rover, Hardrada of Norway, and that they were raiding Yorkshire. Harold hastened northwards, calling out the peasantS on his way, to help the earls Edwin and Morcar; and he won a great battle at Stamford Bridge, in which Tostig and Hardrada were slain. While Harold and his army were feasting at York to celebrate the victory, a arrived with the messenger news that Duke William had landed at Pevensey on the Sussex coast.

Tired as he and his men were, there was nothing for them to do but to hurry back to the south. Edwin and Morcar, however, the earls whom Harold had saved, would do nothing in return. Not a man from Mercia or the north came to Harold’s aid. In this great trial of strength between two peoples the English were divided, and did not join in one army to oppose the Normans.

William The Conqueror
Norman Soldiers on Battlements Norman Keep

Harold drew up his army on a long hill about six miles north of Hastings. On October 14, 1066 William marched against him. The English fought on foot, mostly with two-handed axes; the Normans had not only foot-soldiers, but also horsemen With lances, and in addition there were many archers. The soldiers of both armies wore coats of mail, and metal helmets with nose-guards. The shield was of metal, Teaching as high as a man’s shoulder, and it usually had a round top and a pointed base.

The English were posted on a hill, and the Normans on their horses charged against them. Al day long the battle lasted. William then tried a stratagem. He ordered his men to pretend to retreat; as they did so the English left their ranks on the ridge and rushed down the slope after the retreating enemy. Then the Normans re-formed their ranks, and turned on the English. The English ranks were broken, and only Harold and his bodyguard were left on the ridge.

William could not break through the shield- wall of the bodyguard till he ordered his archers to shoot their arrows into the air. Down came the arrows in showers upon the heads of the English, and at last one pierced Harold’s eye, and he fell dead. The Normans had won what is known as the battle of Hastings, Io66. Near the spot where the battle was fought William had an abbey built, the ruins of which are still standing at the place called Battle. The great men of London were ready to accept William as king, and on Christmas Day he was crowned at Westminster.

William The Conqueror

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