The Norman Conquest of 1066 CE

The Norman Conquest of 1066 CE

The Norman Conquest entirely changed the history of England from 1066 CE onwards. After Harold II's defeat and death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 CE, William the Conqueror was made the new king, the Norman elite completely replaced the old Anglo-Saxons barons, castles were built everywhere, and the two countries of England and France would be linked together in a love-hate relationship that lasts to this day. In this collection of resources, we look at the big battles, William's five-year struggle to put down rebellions from Exeter to York, and the many lasting political and social consequences. We also look at two of the greatest surviving windows into medieval Europe, the Bayeux Tapestry and Domesday Book.

Domesday Book is a treasure trove of information for historians and reveals much about 11th-century CE England. Studies of its figures reveal, amongst many others, such insights as:

  • the names of 13,000 villages
  • that 90% of the population then lived in the countryside
  • that 75% of the population were serfs
  • that many English lords had to buy back their lands from William after the conquest.

1066 And The Norman Conquest

1066 was a momentous year for England. The death of the elderly English king, Edward the Confessor, on 5 January set off a chain of events that would lead, on 14 October, to the Battle of Hastings. In the years that followed, the Normans had a profound impact on the country they had conquered.

Discover more here about the Battle of Hastings itself and its consequences, and find out where you can see some of the spectacular castles and great abbeys the Normans built across the land.


The Norman Conquest

To understand who the Normans were, we have to go back a little to 911. In this year a rather large Viking chief (reckoned to be so big that a horse could not carry him!) called Rollo accepted the ‘kind’ offer of a large area of Northern France from the then king of France, Charles II (‘The Simple’ ) as part of a peace treaty.

Rollo and his ‘Nor(th) Men’ settled in this area of northern France now known as Normandy. Rollo became the first Duke of Normandy and over the next hundred years or so the Normans adopted the French language and culture.

On 5th January 1066, Edward the Confessor, King of England, died. The next day the Anglo-Saxon Witan (a council of high ranking men) elected Harold Godwin, Earl of Essex (and Edward’s brother-in-law) to succeed him. The crown had scarcely been put on his head when King Harold’s problems started.

The Funeral of Edward the Confessor, Bayeux Tapestry In Normandy Duke William did not agree with the voting of the Witan. William claimed that years earlier, Edward had promised the crown of England to him. In addition, he believed that he had strengthened his claim still further when in 1063 he had tricked Harold into swearing to support his claim to the English throne. More than a little annoyed, William prepared to invade.

King Harold also had problems to the north of England – sibling rivalry. Harold’s brother Tostig had joined forces with Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, and had landed with an army in Yorkshire. Harold marched his own English army north from London to repel the invaders. Arriving at Tadcaster on 24th September, he seized the opportunity to catch the enemy off guard. His army was exhausted after the forced march from London, but after a bitter, bloody battle to capture the bridge at Stamford, Harold won a decisive victory on 25th September. Harold Hardrada and Tostig were both killed.

On October 1st Harold and his depleted army then marched the three hundred kilometres south to do battle with Duke William of Normandy who had landed at Pevensey, East Sussex on the 28th September. Harold’s sick, exhausted Saxon army met William’s fresh, rested Norman troops on October 14th at Battle near Hastings, and the great battle began.

At first, the two-handed Saxon battleaxes sliced through the armour of the Norman knights, but slowly the Normans began to gain control. King Harold was struck in the eye by a chance Norman arrow and was killed, but the battle raged on until all of Harold’s loyal bodyguard were slain.

Although William of Normandy had won the Battle of Hastings it would take a few weeks longer to convince the good folk of London to hand over the keys of the city to him. Anglo-Saxon resistance included blocking the Norman advance at the Battle of Southwark. This battle was for control of London Bridge, which crossed the River Thames allowing the Normans easy access to the English capital of London.

This failure to cross the Thames at Southwark required a detour of fifty miles upriver to Wallingford, the next crossing point for William.

Following threats promises and bribes, William’s troops finally entered the city gates of London in December, and on Christmas Day 1066, Archbishop Ealdred of York crowned William, King of England. William could truly now be called ‘The Conqueror’!

This stone below marks the spot at Battle Abbey where the high altar stood on the place where King Harold is said to have died:

Site of the High Altar at Battle Abbey

The early years of William’s English rule were a little insecure. He built castles across England to convince everyone who was the boss, meeting force with even greater force as rebellious regions like Yorkshire were laid waste (the harrowing of the North).

By around 1072, the Norman hold on the kingdom was firmly established. Normans controlled most major functions within the Church and the State. The Domesday Book exists today as a record, compiled some 20 years after the Battle of Hastings, showing all landholder’s estates throughout England. It demonstrates the Norman genius for order and good government as well as showing the vast tracts of land acquired by the new Norman owners.

Norman genius was also expressed in architecture. Saxon buildings had mostly been wooden structures the French ‘brickies’ at once made a more permanent mark on the landscape. Massive stone castles, churches, cathedrals and monasteries were erected, these imposing structures again clearly demonstrating just who was now in charge.


1066: A New History of the Norman Conquest

Harold II – legitimate king, his army a match for the famed Norman cavalry William the Conqueror – deceiver, war criminal, and propagandist with no real claim to the throne devastation and expropriation by a brutal Norman regime brave resistance undermined by collaborators a dedication to the English dead. These are the main themes of this book, and must be the new, radical history that the title and dust jacket promise. Peter Rex does have a point. History is often written by the victors and the conquest sources are mainly Norman, while some 20th-century historians minimised Norman violence and Anglo-Saxon suffering, pushed Norman military superiority, and accepted the Norman construct that Edward left the throne to William and Harold swore to support him. But while it is still important to counter this view, it is not now ‘new’ or radical.

Balance and context are also important. Rex admits that William might have intended a genuinely Anglo-Norman realm – but he does so only once, whereas much evidence supports that view. Examples include mercy for the rebellious city of Exeter (and repeatedly for English earls) and also the retention of Anglo-Saxon officials, churchmen and language. Anglo-Saxon England itself had an advanced government system, but had seen succession crises on every king’s death since the late tenth century. Harold’s father had been implicated in the betrayal and murder of Edward’s brother Alfred earls were exiled and returned with Irish fleets and Welsh raiders Harold’s elder brother abducted an abbess and his younger brother’s policies led to rebellion in the north. Edward’s connections with Normandy, where he had spent part of his youth, remained close. These fissures within the Anglo-Saxon elite, memories of their quick return to power after Cnut’s conquest 50 years before, and self interest, did prevent united opposition to William.

Rex reserves his strongest criticism for collaborators, but, as in later conflicts, theirs was often a difficult position. Some managed to protect their dependents by working with the new regime. Rex cites Thorkell of Arden, but Abbot Aethelwig of Evesham, the archetypal quisling, also helped refugees and impoverished nobles. Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester recognised William, played a crucial role in defeating a 1075 rebellion, and sat on the shire court, but the Anglo-Saxons soon considered him a saint. No one has ever called him a quisling.

Rex is right not to accept the Norman succession narrative, but the surviving evidence suggests that William and Harold did meet in 1064. Nothing was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for that year, and so, Eadmer, an early 12th-century English monk at Canterbury, might be useful. He says Harold, against Edward’s advice, sought the release of family held hostage by William. Indebted to William for his release from Guy of Ponthieu, Harold was forced to swear to support him. Edward was furious. His story matches the Bayeux tapestry, a Norman source, but woven by Canterbury women. Their ambiguity, balance, and subtlety are necessities in interpretation of the Conquest. So, while this book contributes to an important corrective process, it is too partisan to be a ‘history’ of the Conquest.

Dr Stephen Marritt is lecturer in medieval history at the University of Glasgow


How Did the Norman Conquest Change English Cuisine?

When William the Conqueror’s Norman army invaded England in 1066, the country’s elites found their world changed overnight. But while the new king’s land reforms—namely, instituting feudalism and redistributing tracts owned by prominent Anglo-Saxons to Norman allies—are well documented, historians are still working to understand how the Norman Conquest impacted the everyday lives of England’s lower class.

Now, a new study suggests routines remained much the same for these individuals—albeit with a few notable dietary tweaks. Prior to 1066, the country’s most commonly served meats were beef, lamb, mutton and goat, reports Steven Morris for the Guardian after the invasion, pork and perhaps chicken spiked in popularity.

In England, the year 1066 is “seen as a grand transition after which nothing was the same again,” study co-author Richard Madgwick, an osteoarchaeologist at Cardiff University in Wales, tells the Guardian. “For the elite, the nobility, everything did change radically—the administration of the country, legal frameworks, the organization of the landscape. But at a lower level, people adapted to the new normal rapidly.”

The findings, published this week in the journal PLOS One, center on samples taken from the remains of 248 people and 60 animals (including pigs, cattle, sheep and goats), as well as microscopic traces of fat left on 41 shards of pottery. Dated to between the 10th and 13th centuries, these bones and organic residue were collected at archaeological sites across Oxford.

To deduce the foods these medieval humans and animals ate, the researchers analyzed ratios of stable isotopes found in their bones and teeth. The team also leveraged knowledge of how the human skeleton responds to physiological stress such as starvation and malnutrition.

The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror's invasion of England. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Stable isotope analysis of 36 sets of human remains showed that the typical medieval English diet of cabbage, grain, beef and mutton remained largely unchanged by the Norman Conquest, reports Kiona N. Smith for Ars Technica. Researchers found no signs of rickets, scurvy or anemia—diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies that can warp the skeleton. But layers of tooth enamel dated to the childhoods of people who grew up around the time of the invasion revealed periods of food shortages.

“There is certainly evidence that people experienced periods where food was scarce,” says lead author Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, an archaeologist at the University of Sheffield, in a statement. “But following this, an intensification in farming meant people generally had a more steady food supply and consistent diet. Aside from pork becoming a more popular food choice, eating habits and cooking methods remained unchanged to a large extent.”

The revelation that pork became a larger part of Britons’ diets post-1066 stems from traces of fat found on the pottery fragments. Residue extracted from the pottery suggests the use of dairy fats in cooking declined following the regime change—and that the telltale fatty acids associated with pork became more common, according to Ars Technica.

Analysis of pig bones also allowed the researchers to peer into these animals’ diets, which grew richer in protein and more consistent over time. Based on the findings, the study’s authors suggest that pork farming intensified under Norman rule. Per the Guardian, humans likely fed livestock food scraps instead of letting them forage around the countryside.

As Madgwick says in the statement, the team relied on an “innovative and diverse suite of methods” to “tell the story of how the Conquest affected diet and health in the non-elite, a somewhat marginalized group until now.”


What Fueled the Norman Conquest of England?

The Norman conquerors of England hailed from Normandy in northern France, but prior to that Anglo-Saxon England and Normandy shared very close relations in the decades leading up to the Norman Conquest. (Image: Myrabella/CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 altered the trajectory of England’s history, pulling it out of a Scandinavian orbit, in which it had previously moved, and into more of a continental orbit.

At the same time, the Norman Conquest resulted in the strengthening of a monarchy that was already one of the most formidable in Europe, and indeed, the English monarchy would grow so strong that within a century of the Norman Conquest of England, it controlled more of France than did the kings of France themselves.

Even though, in 1066, Norman conquerors, hailing from Normandy in northern France, seized the English throne from the Anglo-Saxon rulers who had previously held it, Anglo-Saxon England and Normandy had had very close relations in the decades leading up to the Norman Conquest. The closeness of these relations would pave the way for the Norman Conquest of England.

The Viking Settlers of Normandy

Normandy was a rather peculiar part of Europe at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. It was one of the few areas of the European continent to have experienced extensive Viking settlement during the course of the 10th century.

Viking warrior Rollo was invited, along with his followers, to settle in Normandy to protect the northern coast of France from other Vikings who were still plundering and raiding the European continent. (Image: Pradigue/CC BY 3.0/Public domain)

Back in 911, a Carolingian ruler had invited a group of Vikings and their leader, whose name was Rollo, to settle in Normandy. He hoped that the Vikings who settled in Normandy could be used to protect the northern coast of France from other Vikings, who were still plundering and raiding the European continent at that point.

Rollo and his Viking followers accepted the job, and did a fairly good job of protecting the continent. The Viking attacks petered out on the continent during the course of the 10th century.

It’s worth noting that the name ‘Normandy’ is derived from the Vikings. The Vikings were called ‘Northmen’ during the Middle Ages, and Normandy is the land where the Northmen had settled.

At the time of the Viking settlement in Normandy in 911, the Vikings were pagans, and they spoke a Scandinavian language. At the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, though, the Vikings who settled in Normandy had abandoned paganism and adopted Christianity. They had also abandoned their Scandinavian language for the French language.

At the time of Rollo’s settlement in 911 he had been given the title of ‘count’, but his descendants took the more prestigious title of ‘duke’, and no one was willing to tell them that they couldn’t.

This is a transcript from the video series The High Middle Ages. Watch it now, Wondrium.

Dukes of Normandy and Kings of England Shared a Blood Tie

Viking attacks against Anglo-Saxon England resumed after a lull in the 980s, and they soon grew so bad that the kings of England looked to the Normans in Normandy for help.

In 991, to cement an alliance between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans, the Anglo-Saxon king of England, whose name was Aethelred, agreed to marry the daughter of the Duke of Normandy. This marriage in 991 established a blood tie between the dukes of Normandy and the kings of England a blood tie that was going to have momentous and unforeseen consequences in future generations.

When the Viking attacks on England grew so bad that the Anglo-Saxon kings had to flee their kingdom, it was to Normandy that they fled. In 1013, the Anglo-Saxon kings of England went into exile, and they spent most of the next three decades living in Normandy. Not until 1042 did Anglo-Saxon kings actually return to their own kingdom.

When an Anglo-Saxon king named Edward the Confessor died childless in 1066, several individuals laid claim to the English throne. One individual who claimed that he should be the next king of England was named Harald Hardrada. Hardrada was a Norwegian. He had certain blood ties to the Anglo-Saxon royal family, and so his claims were not entirely groundless.

A second individual whose claim to the throne was about as good, thanks to blood ties, was the duke of Normandy, known as William the Bastard, which referred to his background, not to his personality. Later, he would be given the more congenial name of William the Conqueror.

The Anglo-Saxons Wanted Their Own King

The king of Norway, Harald Hardrada, and the duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, were not the only two individuals with a claim to the throne. The inhabitants of Anglo-Saxon England themselves did not relish the thought of a foreigner coming in and establishing a new ruling dynasty.

Harald Hardrada spoke Norwegian. William the Conqueror spoke French. Thus, the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy decided to elect one of their own to be the next king, and they elected an individual by the name of Harold Godwinson.

Harold Godwinson, after he was elected as king, prepared feverishly for the expected Norwegian and Norman attacks, as Harald Hardrada and William the Conqueror attempted to make good their claims to the throne.

Both Harald Hardrada and William the Conqueror wanted to get to England first, in the hopes that they could defeat the Anglo-Saxons, assume a defensive position, and beat off their rivals. As luck would have it, though, prevailing winds blowing from north to south prevented William the Conqueror from setting sail as early as he would have liked, and as a result, he had to bide his time in Normandy, while his rival, Harald Hardrada arrived in the north of England.

The Battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings

At the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold Godwinson and his Anglo-Saxon army defeated Harald Hardrada and drove the Norwegians out of England, but the Anglo-Saxon army was left in a weakened condition, which allowed the Norman army to defeat them at the Battle of Hastings, and William the Conqueror was crowned king of England on Christmas Day, 1066. (Image: Amitchell125/CC BY 3.0/Public domain)

Harald Hardrada and Harold Godwinson, together with their respective Norwegian and Anglo-Saxon followers, met in the north at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which was fought in 1066, and the result was an Anglo-Saxon victory—sort of.

Harald Hardrada was defeated, and the Norwegians were driven out, but they inflicted so much damage upon the Anglo-Saxons that the Anglo-Saxon army was left in a weakened condition. No sooner had the Anglo-Saxons won at Stamford Bridge, than news arrived that the winds had changed, and that William the Conqueror had arrived in the south of England.

The Anglo-Saxons rushed to the south where they met the Normans at the Battle of Hastings, also fought in 1066. The result of the Battle of Hastings was a Norman victory. Harold Godwinson was shot in the eye with an arrow, which turned the tide of battle, and William the Conqueror was able to have himself crowned as king of England on Christmas Day, December 25, 1066.

However, this did not mean that the Norman Conquest was over. The way in which William the Conqueror had persuaded the English to accept him as their king was by pillaging and ravaging the countryside until they allowed him to undergo the coronation.

It took a further four years, from 1066 to 1070, for William the Conqueror to subdue the open Anglo-Saxon opposition to him. The fact that it took four years for William the Conqueror, preceding from south to north, to complete the Norman Conquest, had important consequences in the future.

Common Questions about the Norman Conquest of England

The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 altered the trajectory of England’s history, pulling it out of a Scandinavian orbit, in which it had previously moved, and into more of a continental orbit.

The Norman Conquest of England began with the Battle of Hastings, in which William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxon army led by Harold Godwinson. Godwinson was shot in the eye with an arrow, which turned the tide of battle, and William the Conqueror was able to have himself crowned as king of England on Christmas Day, December 25, 1066.

A group of Vikings led by Rollo had settled in Normandy in northern France to protect the northern coast of France from other Vikings. Over time these Vikings became the dukes of Normandy, they abandoned paganism and adopted Christianity, and also abandoned their Scandinavian language for the French language. So, at the time of the Norman Conquest of England , they were more French than Viking.

First, the king of Norway, Harald Hardrada invaded England in 1066, and fought at the Battle of Stamford Bridge against the Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson. Hardrada was defeated. Then, the duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror invaded England , also in 1066. He fought at the Battle of Hastings, in which the Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxon army.


The Normans – The Events Leading to the Norman Conquest 1066

The battle took place at Senlac Hill. Harold ordered his Saxon army to make a shield wall at the top of the hill. William’s army made the first attack but were held off by the shield wall. Successive attacks by the Normans continued to be held off by the shield wall. Some time later, however, some Saxons thought they heard a cry that William had been killed. The Saxon’s believing that they had won the battle, broke the shield wall and chased the retreating Normans down the hill. This gave the Norman horseman the opportunity they had been waiting for. Charging into the Saxon foot soldiers they cut them down before riding up the hill to break the remnants of the shield wall.

The battle lasted all day and towards the end of the day Harold fell, popularly thought to be from an arrow in the eye, but actually from a sword blow wielded by a mounted Norman Knight. The English infantry was broken, William had won the battle. He gave thanks for victory by founding an altar and later an abbey at the place known afterwards as Battle.


Kings come and go cabbage is forever

If you want to know about ancient people’s lives, sometimes it’s best to go straight to the source. So Craig-Atkins and her colleagues examined bones from 36 people who lived around Oxford in the centuries before and after the Norman Conquest, from 900 to 1300 CE.

Malnutrition sometimes reaches right down to the bone: in children who don’t get enough vitamin D over a long period of time, growing bones are weak and bend into abnormal shapes, a condition called rickets. Left untreated, scurvy, the vitamin C deficiency that plagued sailors for centuries, can eventually cause osteoporosis in some places and unusual bone growth in others. Iron deficiency anemia can make the bones around the eye socket porous and fragile.

Of course, diseases of malnutrition don’t always leave a signature on their victims’ skeletons. Bones tend to reveal only the most severe, long-term cases. A bad winter probably won’t leave you with bone lesions from scurvy, but a bad several years might. Possibly for this reason, skeletal signs of diseases like scurvy and rickets were rare in people from early medieval Oxford, both before and after 1066. That suggests the general lot of English commoners didn’t get much better or much worse after William the Conqueror landed on the British coast, at least from the standpoint of putting food on the table.

That, in turn, means that people probably weren’t dealing with economic depression, displacement from their homes, or the other social, economic, and political disasters that can make it hard to get enough food. In other words, the common people may have been a lot more secure than English nobles and clergy during the late 11 th century.

But many people probably felt a short pinch. Craig-Atkins and her colleagues found evidence for that in the teeth of people who had been young children during the transition to Norman rule. Even a short period of malnutrition or serious illness can disrupt the development of a child’s teeth the layer of enamel that gets laid down during that disruption is thinner than normal, causing what’s known as a linear enamel hypoplasia. Its presence suggests some short-term fluctuations occurred in the English food supply, which apparently improved once things stabilized.

“There is certainly evidence that people experienced periods where food was scarce,” said Craig-Atkins. “But following this, intensification in farming meant people generally had a more steady food supply and consistent diet.”


The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest
The Norman conquest of England was a military invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. King Harold, with his Saxon army, and Duke William fought at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. King Harold was killed in the battle and his army left. On December 25 1066 William was crowned the new King of England. On December 25 1066 William was crowned the new King of England( The History of the Norman Conquest). William was a Duke who ruled Normandy, now a region in France. He invaded England after the death of King Edward the Confessor because he believed he had the most right to be King of England. Due to the invasion of England, 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(The History of the Norman Conquest). William decided to invade England and enforce his claim by his and only his direct orders. After gathering an army of some valiant sized men, he landed at Penvensey, England in September of 1066. The rebut over the conquest started almost as soon as the event itself. Ironically, William the conqueror was also the Duke of Normandy in France. So this put William in an awkward position of ruling one country while still serving as a vassal of another country ruler. 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.


COBBETT's parliamentary history of England : from the Norman conquest, in 1066, to the year, 1803

Publication date 1808 Usage Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Topics Great Britain. Parliament Publisher London : Published by R. Bagshaw Collection britishparliamentarypublications universityofsouthamptonlibrary additional_collections Contributor University of Southampton Language English Volume III

Title and subtitle vary: Cobbett's parliamentary history of England : from the Norman conquest, in 1066, to the year, 1803, from which last-mentioned epoch it is continued downwards in the work entitled, Cobbett's parliamentary debates, v. 1-12. 1066-1743 The parliamentary history of England : from the earliest period to the year 1803, from which last-mentioned epoch it is continued downwards in the work entitled, The parliamentary debates, v. 13-30. 1743-1794 The parliamentary history of England : from the earliest period to the year 1803, from which last-mentioned epoch it is continued downwards in the work entitled, Hansard's parliamentary debates, v. 31-36. 1794-1803

Imprint varies: Vol. 7-36, printed by T.C. Hansard for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown . [et al.]

Includes indexes of the names of the several speakers in both Houses of Parliament

"Proceedings in the Parliament of Scotland, from the meeting of the new Parliament on the 6th of May, 1706, to the union with England, in the year 1707": v. 6, Appendix I

Edited by W.Cobbett and J. Wright

A full bibliographic record is available from the University of Southampton Library catalogue.


Watch the video: 1066 Norman Conquest of England