Contents• The Beginning• Harold’s army• The soldiers• Edward the Confessor• The tactics• William the Conqueror• English emigration• Influence• Language
The Beginning The Norman conquest ofEngland began on 28September 1066 with theinvasion of England byWilliam, Duke ofNormandy, who becameknown as William theConqueror after his victoryat the Battle of Hastings on14 October 1066, defeatingthe then king Harold II ofEngland.
Harold’s army Harolds army was badlydepleted in the Englishvictory at the Battle ofStamford Bridge in NorthernEngland on 25 September1066 over the army of KingHarald III of Norway. Byearly 1071, William hadsecured control of most ofEngland, althoughrebellions and resistancecontinued to approximately1088.
Edward the Confessor He was half-Norman by birthand had spent most of his life inNormandy; he appointedNormans to important positionsin the state . England was alreadyhalf Normanized before theNorman Conquest of 1066. Across the Channel in Normandy,а loud protest was heard.According to Duke William,Edward the Confessor had madethe same promise to him; whatwas more, Harold had alreadyaccepted Williams claim during аvisit to Normandy two yearsbefore.
The tactics William swept across theChannel with his army andlanded near Hastings. Haroldwas in the north, where hehad just defeated а Norseinvasion, but he hurried southand, brave but foolish, offeredbattle. His men were tired andhe would have done better tohave starved the Normansout. Still, his position on а hillwas а strong one, until theNormans, pretending to runaway, lured the English downthe hill.
William the Conqueror At first he moved gently, and triedto disturb Anglo-Saxon institutionsas little as possible. England alreadypossessed better governmentmachinery than Normandy, so thatwas only sensible. But rebellionsagainst the Normans provoked himinto harsher action. In the north, hissoldiers swept through the countrylike fire. Between York and Durhamthey left hardly а building standing. William ruled Normandy as wellas England, and for the next 500years English kings also held land inFrance.
English emigration Large numbers of Englishpeople, especially from the dispossessedformer landowning class, ultimately foundNorman domination unbearable andemigrated. Scotland and the ByzantineEmpire were particularly populardestinations, while others settled in Ireland(as did Godwine and Magnus, sons of HaroldGodwinson), Scandinavia and perhaps as farafield as Russia and the coasts of the BlackSea. Many English nobles and soldiersmigrated to Byzantium, where they becamethe predominant element in the eliteVarangian Guard, hitherto a largelyScandinavian unit, from which theemperors bodyguard was drawn. EnglishVarangians continued to serve the empireuntil at least the mid-fourteenth century.
Influence The Norman conquestwas a pivotal event inEnglish history. It largelyremoved the native rulingclass, replacing it with aforeign, French-speakingmonarchy, aristocracy, andclerical hierarchy. This, inturn, brought about atransformation of theEnglish language and theculture of England in a newera often referred to asNorman England.
Influence The Conquest caused sweepingchanges among the leading land-holding families. There wereNorman landlords before1066, but most were Anglo-Saxonor Danish. Within twenty years, allWilliam’s chief tenants wereNormans. As а sign of thechange, stone castles rosethreateningly at everystrongpoint, and work was startedon the great cathedrals in thecities. In the early stages ofconstruction, the two types ofbuilding looked alike - а sign of thealliance in Norman England of thepowers of Church and State.
Influence Normans quickly adapted tothe indigenous culture,renouncing paganism andconverting to Christianity. Theyadopted the langue doïl oftheir new home and addedfeatures from their own Norselanguage, transforming it intothe Norman language. Theyfurther blended into the cultureby intermarrying with the localpopulation.
Influence By bringing England under the controlof rulers originating in France, theNorman conquest linked the countrymore closely with continentalEurope, lessened Scandinavianinfluence, and set the stage for a rivalrywith France that would continueintermittently for many centuries. Italso had important consequences forthe rest of the British Isles, paving theway for further Norman conquests inWales and Ireland, and the extensivepenetration of the aristocracy ofScotland by Norman and other French-speaking families, with theaccompanying spread of continentalinstitutions and cultural influences.
Language One of the most obvious changes was theintroduction of Anglo-Norman, a northerndialect of Old French, as the language of theclasses in England, displacing Old English. Thispredominance was further reinforced andcomplicated in the mid-twelfth century by aninflux of followers of the Angevindynasty, speaking a more mainstream dialectof French.
Conclusion The Norman Conquest was the lastsuccessful invasion of England by a foreignclaimant. Others have tried – such as theSpanish, the French, the Germans – and failed.We can therefore look back on the NormanConquest as helping to shape the England ofthe present. The importance of 1066 is seen inthe permanence of those changes.