5 Ways the Norman Conquest Changed England

5 Ways the Norman Conquest Changed England

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In 1066 William, duke of Normandy, invaded England, defeated the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings and seized the kingdom for himself.

Some of the troops who fought for him were foreign mercenaries and adventurers. The rest were Norman nobles and the war bands they had raised from their tenantry to support the duke’s daring enterprise.

Most of the surviving mercenaries eventually returned home with jangling purses, but the Normans came to stay.

Here are 5 of the biggest changes they wrought on the nation they conquered.

1. A new tenurial system

When William vanquished the Anglo-Saxons, he confiscated their estates and introduced a new tenurial system under which he owned all the land.

He kept some of it for himself, gave some to the Church and granted the rest to his barons on condition that they swore an oath of loyalty to him and supplied him with men for his armies.

The barons, in turn, granted part of the land they held to a select group of knights, who likewise pledged their loyalty. The knights then granted little strips of ground to large numbers of peasants, who worked their lord’s fields and gave him a share of their produce.

The tenurial system the king adopted had two consequences: it created a new ruling class, and tethered power to the possession of real estate because many of the invaders owed their social standing to the lands they held, rather than their lineage.

2. A new ruling class

The Domesday Book – the result of a huge property survey that William commissioned in late 1085 – reveals the scale of the Norman land grab.

A page from William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book.

The aggregate value of the area covered by the survey was about £73,000. The Church held some 26 per cent of this territory, but almost everything else was in Norman hands.

The king headed the nation’s “rich list”, with estates covering 17 per cent of England, while roughly 150-200 barons held another 54 per cent between them.

However, there was an elite within the elite. Some 70 men held lands worth £100 to £650, and the 10 greatest magnates controlled enormous fiefdoms worth £650 to £3,240.

The remaining 7,800-odd landholders possessed relatively modest estates. In fact, more than 80 per cent of the secular (as distinct from clerical) subtenants named in Great Domesday held lands worth £5 or less. Most of these people were also Normans.

Native subtenants, by contrast, held only 5 per cent of the country – and the majority of them held just one manor. Some were survivors who had managed to cling to their ancestral estates. Others had supported William and prospered under the new regime.

Arundel Castle is one West Sussex’s greatest attractions with a history spanning nearly a thousand years. It has its roots in Norman times, originally built at the end of the 11th century by the then Earl of Arundel, Roger de Montgomery. The keep Montgomery created was initially made out of wood, but was later replaced by stone.

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3. A new pattern of inheritance

In addition to redistributing England’s landed wealth, William altered the basis on which that wealth cascaded down the generations.

In Anglo-Saxon society, when a man died, his lands were usually shared out among his sons under the principle of “partible inheritance”. In Normandy, however, there was a dual pattern of inheritance.

An ordinary landholder could divide his estate among his chosen heirs. Conversely, a noble was required to pass all his inherited property to his first-born son.

William the Conqueror and his son Robert, 1865 (Credit: John Cassell).

William adhered to Norman custom. But when he himself died, he bequeathed Normandy (which he had inherited) to his eldest son, Robert Curthose, and England (which he had acquired) to his second son, William Rufus. He left no land for his youngest son, Henry, who simply received 5,000 lbs. of silver.

Most of the barons copied the king’s example. If they had more than one son, the inherited lands generally went to the first-born and the acquired lands to the second-born, while any other sons had to make their own way in life.

This practice soon spread to the lesser ranks. Within a century of the Conquest, male primogeniture applied to even the lowliest military tenancy.

4. The seeds for a two-tier parliamentary system

The roots of the new Anglo-Norman nobility lay in mainland Europe, but they diverged from their neighbours. While every medieval European nation had a patrician elite, it was typically a single broad caste.

In England, by contrast, the nobility formed two cohorts: the small coterie of titled magnates who held vast tracts of territory directly from the king, and the much larger group of lesser landowners – the gentry – who held land from the barons they served.

The former enjoyed greater privileges than the latter. The law of male primogeniture also ensured that the English aristocracy as a whole gradually became less numerous but financially stronger than their continental counterparts.

The magnates attended the royal councils that William established to replace the Anglo-Saxon Witan. But over time England’s middling landholders also became involved in the running of the country.

Thus the Conquest sowed the seeds for a two-tier parliamentary system in which titled magnates sat, by right, in the House of Lords, while the gentry were only eligible for election to the House of Commons as emissaries of the counties in which they resided.

A modified version of this structure remains even now.

5. A new architectural landscape

When William reached England, he made his base at Hastings, where he immediately built a wooden keep on a large mound of earth, inside a courtyard enclosed by a palisade and protective ditch.

A Bayeux Tapestry scene depicting an attack on the Château de Dinan in Brittany, shown with a wooden palisade surmounting the motte (Credit: Myrabella / CC),

It was the first of many such “motte-and-bailey” castles. By 1100 more than 500 motte-and-bailey castles had been constructed.

The Normans erected castles to subdue the native populace, and erected monasteries and churches to make their peace with God.

In 1066 there were some 45 Benedictine monasteries in England. By 1150 another 95 religious houses had been founded.

Buildings for public worship were also springing up all around. In Anglo-Saxon times a fairly small network of minster churches served large territories. By the mid-12th century there were numerous little parish churches, many of which still exist, resting on the foundations of a Norman predecessor.

In this episode, Dan visits St Mary’s House and discovers some of the fascinating treasures of this building that is shrouded in nearly a millennia of history.

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A bidirectional process

The Conquest left an indelible mark on the nation. Yet just as the Normans transformed England, so England transformed them.

The descendants of the men who had crossed the Channel in 1066 slowly shed their Norman heritage as immigrants married indigenes, administrators of native origin entered noble service and the English language displaced French.

By 1362, when Edward III passed a law making English the “tongue of the country”, the Normans had become wholly English.

Dr Helen Kay is the author of The 1066 Norman Bruisers, published by Pen & Sword in February 2020. Her book conjures up the vanished world of medieval England through the lens of one family – the Boydells of Dodleston Castle – and shows how a bunch of Norman thugs evolved into the quintessentially English gentry.

Changes and Continuity: The Impact of the Norman Conquest

Analysing the effects of a major event can be a nebulous business, even for students at A level. Students need to identify changes and continuities and also be aware of aspects of society that saw both change and continuity. And then there&rsquos the question of whether there was more change than continuity. It&rsquos a lot to hold and organize in your head but this classic &lsquowashing line&rsquo activity helps students to make sense of the pattern of changes and continuities. It works by making the concepts more concrete through physical representation and, as a result, students do understand more and understand it more deeply.

While this activity is aimed at Year 7 it can be used in a different way with A level students (see Notes & Variations).

10 ways the Anglo-Saxons changed the course of British history

Anglo-Saxon settlers first started colonising parts of Britain in the fifth century AD and, over the following 500 years or so, would establish themselves as the foremost power in the British Isles. Yet it would be hundreds of miles to the south, in Rome, that arguably the most significant event in their history would occur. Here, in the late sixth century, the future pope, Gregory the Great, observed fair-haired Anglo-Saxon captives and called them “not Angles but angels”. He dreamed that he would bring Christianity to these pagans “at the farthest edge of the world”.

Gregory’s dream became a reality. In AD 596, he sent his chaplain, Augustine, along with 40 companions, on a mission to the Angles’ homeland. The following year, the missionaries landed on the island of Thanet in Kent.

This was a defining moment in British history – one that would eventually see the English people adopt Christianity. In Cambridge, there’s a sixth-century illuminated book, the Augustine Gospels, which – so tradition has it – the pilgrim brought with him. Its paintings of the Bible story are a glorious evocation of the Mediterranean roots of English Christianity.

They embraced the wisdom of the east

Early in AD 669, two strangers arrived in England: Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek-speaking former Syrian refugee, and Hadrian, a Libyan. Both men were monks who had fled west after the Arab conquests of the 630s. Theodore had found a home in the Syrian community in Rome Hadrian headed a small monastery near Naples.

In 668, when the archbishopric in Canterbury fell vacant, Theodore was sent on a rescue mission to the failing English church. Taking Hadrian with him, Theodore set off bearing the wisdom of the Greek east: theology, poetry, grammar, biblical commentaries and a litany of saints – one of whom, the Syrian saint George, would later become patron saint of the English. But most intriguing of all is a fragment of letters by the African saint Cyprian, written in north Africa in the late 300s, and surely brought to England by Hadrian himself.

Theodore and Hadrian worked tirelessly, organising the church across England, training priests, and imparting knowledge of Greek and Latin civilisation. “This was the happiest time for the English people,” wrote the eighth-century English historian Bede.

Theodore died in AD 690, aged 88. Hadrian survived for another 20 years. “A man of African race,” as Bede described him, he may have been the most significant of all black Britons.

They gave us the idea of the English nation

From Newcastle Central train station, it’s a short journey on the Metro down the Tyne to Jarrow and the remains of the Anglo-Saxon monastery that once stood over the tidal lagoon of the Slake.

Founded in AD 685, Jarrow was the sister house to Wearmouth (674) – and, for an extraordinary 50 years, the double monastery transformed European civilisation. It transmitted key texts in religion, culture, history and science from the lost libraries of Italy. It even popularised the AD dating system now in use worldwide. It was here too that Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the defining text of the English people – a history of Britain as it looked in AD 731, with its English, Irish, Welsh, Pictish and Latin speakers.

Bede set out to write an ecclesiastical history but in the end it widens out to be “the story of our island and its people”. At the heart of that story was a crucial idea: the gens Anglorum, the ‘English nation’.

They bequeathed us spellbinding poetry

One of the best places to savour the glories of early English poetry, surprisingly, is in southern Scotland. On the coastal plain beyond the Solway Firth is Ruthwell, which was once in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Today, Ruthwell is home to a majestic 20ft stone cross that stands inside the local church. On it are biblical scenes and words in runes from one of the greatest of all English poems, the Dream of the Rood. Mixing Christian and pagan themes, the poem is a haunting tale told by a speaking tree – Jesus’s cross itself. It’s the story of Christ, who dies heroically to save his people.

Composed around 680, the Dream of the Rood reveals the richness of English poetry at a comparatively early stage in the language’s development. It’s our first great dream vision, the ancestor of Chaucer, Blake and William Morris.

Luckily for us, during the 10th century, kings and nobles went about collecting the very best Anglo-Saxon poetry – and the British Library exhibition brings together the four most important collections for the very first time. Best known is Beowulf, which tells the story of a brave pagan warrior’s battles with monsters and dragons. The forerunner to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, Beowulf takes us to the birth of English literature and the roots of the English literary imagination.

They inspired Europe’s first renaissance

Its not for nothing that Charlemagne was remembered by later generations as Pater Europae, ‘Father of Europe’. The mighty Frankish king (and, later, Holy Roman Emperor) was a great military leader, empire-builder and politician. He also had a sharp eye for talent. And, in 781, that eye alighted on an Anglo-Saxon scholar called Alcuin.

Alcuin was probably born in the 730s at Spurn Head, where biting winds gust across the Humber. By the 770s, he was in York, overseeing the finest library of its time. It was this that drew him to Charlemagne’s attention, and led to a meeting between the two men in the Italian city of Parma.

Anxious to recruit the best scholars in Europe, Charlemagne headhunted Alcuin to run his palace school, and to steer the most ambitious cultural project of the early Middle Ages: the Carolingian Renaissance.

In the archbishop’s library at Lambeth is a copy of Alcuin’s letters to Charlemagne with his own thoughts on the ruler’s grand design, his ideas on Christian kingship, and his dream of a united European civilisation. In doing so, he helped promote a flowering of literature, art and religious study across western Europe. This alone makes Alcuin one of the most important people in the west in the thousand years between the classical world and the Italian Renaissance.

They gave us the greatest of all Britons

“Without wisdom, nothing can be done to any purpose.” So wrote the most celebrated of all Anglo-Saxon monarchs, Alfred the Great. As Alcuin’s exploits in the eighth century demonstrate, the acquisition of knowledge was central to the Anglo-Saxon tradition. But by the time Alfred became ruler of the kingdom of Wessex in 871, that thirst for wisdom had been forced to play second fiddle to a quest for survival in the face of a Viking onslaught.

Viking raids on the British Isles began in the eighth century, growing in frequency until the sack of the monasteries of Lindisfarne and Jarrow in 793–94. Then armies began to stay over winter. And finally, in the 870s, in the ominous words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “they divided the land, settled down and began to plough”. The royal families of the East Angles and Northumbrians ended. Mercia was partitioned. Wessex, ‘the Last Kingdom’, stood alone.

Alfred’s victories over the Vikings saved England and left him ‘King of the Anglo-Saxons’ – in other words, of the Mercians and West Saxons together. But no less important was his project to restore learning and education: “To translate into English the books most needful for men to know.”

For inspiration, Alfred turned to the Carolingian Renaissance and the idea that Christian kings should be patrons of learning. He gathered scholars from Wales, Germany and France. Working in a kind of seminar, as Alfred himself put it, they worried away at a text “word by word and idea by idea” till an English version could be written down, copied out and disseminated.

“It was a time,” Alfred said, “when everything was ruined and burned.” But Alfred planned for our future, all the same. That’s why, for me, he remains the greatest Briton.

They fashioned our legal system

Travelling south-west on the A303 through Hampshire takes you within a few miles of the village of Grateley. Most motorists drive past the turn off to the village without giving it a moment’s thought. Yet if they were to take a left here, they’d find themselves approaching one of the most significant sites in early English history. For, as the sign outside St Leonard’s Church in the heart of the village tells us, it was in Grateley that “the first code of law for all England was enacted… in 928 by King Æthelstan”. AD 928 marks the moment when the English state was created – not only establishing a framework for the nation’s law and assembly politics but also paving the way for the later English parliament.

It’s a story revealed in the Textus Roffensis (also known as the Rochester Codex), England’s greatest law book and, for me, an even more important text than Magna Carta. The Codex contains the earliest written English – in Kentish laws from c600 – and later codes include records of meetings in which Alfred’s grandson Æthelstan consults with his council over crime and punishment, law and order.

Æthelstan’s short reign was hugely ambitious, often overly so. But in a six-year burst of innovation between 928 and 933, he turned the England of which Alfred had dreamed into a reality. Two centuries on, public opinion declared that “no one more just or learned ever administered the state”.

They preached in the language of the people

It is hard to overstate the role of the vernacular Bible in English identity: from the Lollards (who, from the 14th century, campaigned for the translation of the Bible into English), to the Protestant Reformation to the Civil War. Think of William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English in the 16th century, and the King James Bible think of Bible readers like Shakespeare, Milton and Blake.

But how many of us know that the first English gospels were Anglo-Saxon? And we still speak many of the same words today. The Lord’s Prayer – “Faeder ure thu the eart on heofonum” – is recognisably English. Some manuscripts are marked up for reading out loud, so their words must have been known to English people long before Wycliffe.

Later tradition states that it was Æthelstan who commissioned the translation of the gospels in English (an example of which will be on display in the British Library exhibition) and a recent find of manuscript fragments from the 10th century suggests that date could be right. Either way, there’s little doubt that these translations are a root text of English culture.

They wrote brilliant histories

It was said in the 980s that England was a land of “many different races, languages, customs and costumes”. The achievement of the kings from Æthelstan to Edgar (who ruled England from 959–75) was to create an allegiance to the monarch and his law. But with lesser rulers cohesion crumbled, and disaster struck under Æthelred the Unready. His 37-year reign saw the return of the Vikings, the defeat of the English, and the establishment in 1016 of a Danish kingdom of England under Cnut.

This story is told in one of our greatest historical narratives, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In its earlier years, the Chronicle was a laconic, impersonal record of the times, but in the first decade of the 11th century it came into its own, courtesy of a brilliant account written by a nameless London chronicler. Tragic, ironic, scathing, with poignant eyewitness detail, it is the birth of narrative history in English.

Æthelred’s reign also marked the beginning of ties with a future nemesis from across the English Channel. In 1002, the king married Emma of Normandy, one of the most remarkable women in our history. Elizabeth I and Victoria may be more celebrated, but in terms of drama, Emma’s 50-year reign leaves them in her wake: only Matilda can compare. Her story is told in the first biography of a woman in our history, In Praise of Queen Emma, which lifts the veil on 11th-century dynastic politics.

Emma later married Cnut, and her Danish and English sons became kings. This was a time when the Danish kings of England ruled Denmark and parts of Norway and Sweden too: a North Sea empire, and a very different alignment for English history. But when Emma’s childless son, Edward the Confessor, died in 1066, waiting in the wings was a giant of English history, William of Normandy.

They shaped the England we know today

William the Conqueror’s victory over the English at Hastings on 14 October 1066 was a shattering blow that ended half a millennium of Anglo-Saxon England. The ruling class was systematically removed: of 1,400 chief tenants in place on the eve of William’s invasion, only two were left in 1086. This was a time of massive change, and the Conquest was long remembered as a “a bitter wound for our dear country”.

The Conquest was recorded in the most famous text in British history: Domesday Book (which is on display in the British Library exhibition). Domesday Book even tells us how it felt for a former freeman, Aelfric of Marsh Gibbon in Buckinghamshire, to farm what had been his own land before 1066, but was now leased from a Norman, “miserably, and with a heavy heart”.

Domesday Book is so important because it gives us a statistical portrait of the England bequeathed us by the Anglo-Saxons, with its structures of local government, its shires and hundreds, towns and villages (13,418 of them!). But at the heart of the book are the people themselves. So let’s end with the story of a Domesday farming family, from Cockerington in the Lincolnshire Wolds, who were descended from the old class of Anglo-Danish freemen. A century after Hastings, their great-granddaughter Christiana married a Norman, marking the process by which the conquered and the conquerors made peace.

But the English never forgot 1066. Nor of course did the Welsh and, later, the Irish (the centuries-long assault on their culture began with an Anglo-Norman invasion in the 1170s). The Normans bequeathed wounds yet to heal. Even in the 21st century, we are trying to negotiate the legacy of these events: in Scottish and Welsh independence movements, and in the Irish border question. As the historian Eric John wrote in the 20th century: “It was the Anglo-Saxons who made England, the Normans who attempted to make Great Britain. And as yet they have not succeeded so well.”

Michael Wood is a historian, whose books include In Search of the Dark Ages (BBC Books, 2005)

Norman places to visit

You can see some of the best-preserved Norman architecture in England at English Heritage sites, including great castles and magnificent abbeys. Follow the links below to find out more about some of our most spectacular Norman sites.

Pevensey Castle

A Norman castle was built here within the walls of a Roman fort close to the spot where William landed in England on 28 September 1066.

Old Sarum

King William gathered his army here in 1070 after his campaign to subdue northern England. See the remains of the Norman castle and cathedral built here soon afterwards within a vast Iron Age hillfort.

Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle has one of the most spectacular keeps in England, begun in 1127. A masterpiece of Norman architecture, it is the tallest such building to survive in Europe.

Dover Castle

See some of the most impressive late 12th century architecture in England at this vast fortress, including Henry II's magnificent great tower.

Lindisfarne Priory

Benedictine monks from Durham founded a priory here in the 11th century to house a shrine to St Cuthbert. Surviving Norman architecture includes the famous rainbow arch.

Richmond Castle

Built by a Norman baron, Richmond has more surviving 11th-century architecture than any other castle in England.

Life in England at the Time of the Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest brought huge changes for the ruling and landowning classes of medieval England. But for poorer people, there were fewer changes. Although England in 1066 had a number of sizeable settlements, the majority of people lived in rural areas, in houses built of straw, wood or reeds. It wasn’t until the late twelfth century that stone foundations were used in the construction of ordinary houses.

Village Life in Norman England

In the village, life was based around the cycle of the year, with harvesting and sowing the crops important rituals for ensuring food for the whole community. Inventory records of peasants in Norman England show that most families had few possessions, such as the family table and stools, beds and a chest in which to store goods such as winter blankets. Animals were valuable possessions to peasant households, and often slept in the same house as the family.

The village’s land was typically divided into open fields, within which a crop rotation scheme operated. One field was sown with winter crops, a second with spring crops and the third left to recover before re-sowing the following year. Some fields were held by tenants, some by the manorial lord and others by the village rector. At busy periods such as harvest, many communities would work together, for example, to bring in the crops.

The Town in Norman England

At the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, towns and cities such as York, London, Winchester and Southampton were already large and prosperous trading centres. The Norman Conquest did nothing to change this, and in fact, in the 200 years following the Conquest, the number of towns more than doubled. The Normans founded abbeys around which towns became established. These were trading centres, with markets and specialized goods, such as salt in Droitwich and cloth in Norwich. In the Norman towns, houses and business premises were often crowded together, with buildings usually constructed from timber. By the mid twelfth century, the medieval town became more organized as individual businessmen formed trade guilds, meaning that trade became more regulated and businesses became more specialized.

What changed after the Norman Invasion of England?

But, briefly, a few factoids -
The economic geography turned England from being in the Norse sphere towards the European.
Lots of big buildings appeared made of stone.
The Norman overlords spoke French, their subjects English, thus the two tongues modified the English language over time.
The system of English law was steadily replaced by the Norman, evolving into the system we still use today.
There's much more, involving the Scots and Welsh, feudalism and haircuts.

Your teachers need a kick up the 'arris.

Welcome to Historum, by the way

Tercios Espanoles

The General


At the time of the Norman Conquest England had a vibrant economy and already integrated with continental Europe. For one example, English wool was being exported to the Low Countries for processing. England was already a Latin Christian country so was in contact with Rome and other Christian rulers. The many kingdoms of England and been reduced to two - in the south the independent kingdom of Edward the Confessor and in the north and east, the Danelaw, ruled by Denmark. Just before Hastings, Edward already had a major win against the Danes that if not for the Norman conquest would have lead to the uniting of the two regions.

The changes are not as many historians make it out to be. The Norman Conquest was in the spirit of a Coup d'Etat - merely replacing the ruler and his ruling class with another ruler and ruling class. Yes, they introduced Feudalism which probably hastened the unification of England. They continued the fight against the Danes and even the Scots, reaching up to Edinburgh, but later having to stategically retreat. Arguably that probably would have happened under other successors to the throne. They were very pragmatic and economical and did not change things for changes sake. For instance Common Law, a germanic concept, was maintained even when it died out in Germany itself, as well as the parish system of local administration.

The ruling class now spoke French, but within a few hundered years that receded and left only a small impact on the language and customs.

The big deal was involvement in French politics where the Normans had vast holdings and were vassals of the King of France. Being king of England emboldened them to abandon their feudal obligations towards their liege lord the King of France, costing them many of their French holdings and drawing Englishmen into wars that benefited England little (other than giving them the experience of fighting and diplomacy).


The Danelaw ended long before Hastings.

Not much changed. Or not as much as people make out.

The English language changed, and French and Latin became the languages of government.

But the Normans largely continued or tweaked the English forms of government.

Disciple of Sophia

The Danelaw ended long before Hastings.

Not much changed. Or not as much as people make out.

The English language changed, and French and Latin became the languages of government.

But the Normans largely continued or tweaked the English forms of government.

Lol, no there were huge changes.

#1 The switch from a native nobility to a foreign one is a huge difference. Nobles at beast see villeins as livestock and when they can't even speak to them it's as complete livestock whom need to be beaten into doing what one wants rather than told to.

#2 The Normans/Franks largely replaced the freeman population too, turning law into something only applying to foreigners.

#3 Our ancestors were greatly out numbered by the livestock whom justly feared them and the natives here and there were always plotting or actually revolting and they were put down by local exterminations, meaning they both hated and feared their victims and were hated and feared by them. They mainly lived in tiny enclaves (AKA castles) and did not interact with their livestock much during the first century of their rule.

#4 Anglo-Norman remained the chief legal language rather than Latin, which only gradually replaced it. Even in the 14th century when most Normans no longer spoke Anglo-Norman it was still the language of indentures (AKA contracts). This fact tended to dumb down the "English" who could not understand the laws and led to their easy exploitation in indentures between our ancestors and the English. I also kept dumb German cattle like the Welfs (AKA House of Hanover or house of Windsor) from taking over our livestock and country.

#5 It tied England and France together both in war and peace. Knighthood, Chivalry Courtly Love, French Courtesy, tournaments all spread from France to England. It also spread technology to England from France, for example mechanical clocks were invented sometime in the 13th century during the reign of King John or earlier and professional clock makers already existed in England during John's reign. English society was both much more French and cosmopolitan as a result of the conquest.

#6 The Anglekyn were fairly peaceful after they converted their own livestock into their own kind. And even became livestock of the Danes and had to fight to drive them out. They likely would of remained a peaceful. It was the involvement in the French wars that revived Imperialism in them and our infection of them with our Norman value of Imperialism. No British empire without our conquest, no America, no American empire either.

#7 The greater Cosmopolitan society of England allowed Italian bankers to move into England and without them English Kings could not have financed their wars. It also made England vulnerable to their rule as they always seemed to create new wars as they were enormously profitable to them.

Disclaimer: I don't personally regard anyone as livestock am anti-imperialism and anti-cosmopolitan. I do however hate the Welfs and have an ancestral blood debt to them that can only be satisfied by their complete extermination held in check only by justice and the ideal that people can only be punished for their own evil and the whole Lawfulness thing

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.”

Peveril Castle Norman Keep

The Normans changed the English landscape forever, by erecting mighty castles, many of which still stand today. Initially purely defensive and a very obvious way to show the English who was in charge, castles soon grew more elaborate. Wooden palisades were replaced by stone and castles became homes as well as defensive positions.

What the Normans did for us

Marc Morris explores how Duke William's defeat of Harold II at the battle of Hastings led to a seismic shift in English society, starting from the very top.

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Published: March 31, 2021 at 8:05 am

Even 950 years after the battle of Hastings, 1066 remains the most famous date in English history. It invariably marks the start or end of books about the Middle Ages, and even serves as a shorthand for English history as a whole, as in the parody book 1066 and All That. But why does this date enjoy such unrivalled celebrity? Hastings was certainly a decisive battle, and is imprinted firmly in our collective consciousness from an early age thanks to the miraculous survival of the Bayeux tapestry. Yet those who part with their money in exchange for a commemorative mug, tie or tea towel showing Norman knights charging into English soldiers, or Harold being struck in the eye with an arrow, may still be left wondering what all the fuss is about. It is, after all, just one medieval battle among many.

The answer is simply that Hastings, and the Norman conquest that followed, affected England more than any other event – more so than the Reformation, more even than the Civil War of the 17th century. To quote the historian George Garnett, 1066 ushered in “change of a magnitude and at a speed unparalleled in English history”.

The fundamental reason for this was the devastation of England’s old ruling class. Prior to 1066, the country had been governed by earls, ealdormen and thegns whose roots, in most cases, stretched back into the distant past. The short-lived Danish conquest of 1015 had shaken up this aristocracy and brought new families to the fore, but they remained overwhelmingly English in their ancestry and attitudes.

Initially William had planned to keep these people in place. Though some had fallen at Hastings – notably Harold’s brothers and supporters – there were still many Anglo-Saxon faces at the new king’s court during the early years of his reign, as attestations to his charters testify.

But those early years were also marked by constant English rebellion matched by violent Norman repression. Notoriously, after a large rebellion in 1069, William laid waste to the whole of northern England, causing widespread famine and a death toll in excess of 100,000: the so-called ‘Harrying of the North’. Terrible as this was, it was only a small fraction of the country’s population of around 2 million.

The damage to the aristocracy was, by contrast, much more comprehensive. By the time the data for Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, the elite had been almost completely wiped out: of the 500 or so top individuals listed in the survey as tenants of the king, only 13 had English names, and of 7,000 or so subtenants, no more than 10 per cent were natives. The aristocracy of Anglo-Saxon England had been almost completely swept away – killed in battle, driven into exile or forced to exist in suppressed circumstances.

In their place was a new ruling class drawn from the continent. “England,” lamented the chronicler William of Malmesbury in the early 12th century, “has become the dwelling place of foreigners and the playground of lords of alien blood. No Englishman today is an earl, a bishop or an abbot new faces everywhere enjoy England’s riches and gnaw at her vitals.”

The replacement of one ruling class with another had profound consequences for the country. English and Normans were quite different peoples who not only spoke different languages but also had quite different ideas about the way society should be governed. To begin with an obvious, practical example, they had different modes and methods of warfare. As the battle of Hastings demonstrated, the English elite still preferred to fight on foot, drawing their armies up to form their famous ‘shield-wall’, whereas the Norman aristocracy preferred to ride into battle after the fashion of their Frankish neighbours. More important than such cavalry tactics was the introduction of castles. These newfangled fortifications had been sprouting up across western Europe since the turn of the second millennium but, apart from a handful built during the reign of Edward the Confessor, had not been seen in England.

All that changed with the coming of the Normans. “They built castles far and wide throughout the land,” wept the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1066, “oppressing the unhappy people.” At a conservative estimate, some 500 had been established in England and Wales before 1100, most of them planted in the years immediately after the invasion as the first generation of settlers dug themselves in. Think of almost any famous medieval English fortress – Windsor or Winchester, Newcastle or Norwich, Rochester, Lincoln or York – and the chances are it originated during the reign of William the Conqueror.

Though most of these sites were built to a motte-and-bailey design with wooden walls and buildings, some incorporated great stone towers. Those built by the Conqueror at London and Colchester, and by his greatest followers at places such as Richmond and Chepstow, were on a scale never before seen in Britain. Not even the Romans, whose imperial style the king and his courtiers strove to imitate, had built towers of such height in Britain.

The scale of the architectural revolution was even more apparent in the rebuilding of churches. In 1066 England had only one Romanesque church: Edward the Confessor’s abbey at Westminster. Thereafter England’s new continental prelates competed with each other in a frenzy of grandiose reconstruction, ripping down and replacing what they considered to be outmoded places of worship. By the time of William’s death in 1087, work was well advanced on nine of England’s 15 cathedrals, and by the time of the death of his son, Henry I, in 1135, all 15 had been completely rebuilt. As with the castle towers, the scale was unprecedented – the new cathedral at Winchester, begun in 1079, was larger than any other church north of the Alps – and the speed was astonishing. This was the single greatest revolution in the history of English ecclesiastical architecture.

Striking as these changes were, arguably the most profound and lasting consequences of the Conquest arose because the Normans had new attitudes towards human life itself. You will still often read that they introduced feudalism to England – a statement that most medievalists today would regard as meaningless, because the term was invented in the 19th century, and no two historians can agree on the definition. The Normans do seem to have introduced a more precisely defined form of military service, and they certainly introduced to many parts of England a more onerous form of lordship. Domesday Book shows in many counties a huge drop in the number of people classed as free. In Bedfordshire, for example, there were 700 freemen in 1066, but by 1086 their number had fallen to just 90. A famous Domesday entry for Marsh Gibbon in Buckinghamshire notes that its English farmer, Æthelric, used to hold his land freely, but now holds it “in heaviness and misery”.

Yet, even as they were making life more miserable for those who had once been free, the Normans were dramatically improving the fortunes of those who had not. Before 1066, England had been a slave-owning and slave-trading society. To modern minds the distinction between a pre-Conquest slave and a post-Conquest serf may seem negligible, but to those who experienced both conditions there was a world of difference: to be a slave was far worse than being a servile peasant.

Slaves were essentially human chattels, with no more status than the beasts that stood in the field. They could be sold individually, separated from their families, punished by beating, and even killed by their masters if deemed to have transgressed: male slaves were stoned, females burned. And their numbers were far from negligible. Estimates vary, but at least 10 per cent of the population of England were slaves in 1066, with some scholars suggesting the figure may have been as high as 30 per cent.

In contemporary Normandy, by contrast, slavery was a thing of the past. The Normans, as the descendants of Vikings, had once been slave-traders par excellence the Norman capital, Rouen, had once had a thriving international slave market. But references to this market dry up in the early 11th century, as does evidence for slavery in the duchy as whole. By the time William became duke in 1035, some Normans – particularly churchmen – were actively condemning it.

Accordingly, slavery declined sharply in England after the Conquest. Domesday Book shows , for example, a 25 per cent drop in slave numbers in Essex between 1066 and 1086. The chroniclers also tell us that William banned the slave trade, acting at the insistence of his long-term moral tutor, Lanfranc of Bec, who was made archbishop of Canterbury after the Conquest. The ban was clearly effective because in the following decades slavery died out. The last church council to condemn “that shameful trade by which in England people used to be sold like animals” took place in 1102, and by the early 12th century the practice of keeping and trading slaves seems to have disappeared altogether. “In this respect,” wrote the monastic author Lawrence of Durham in the 1130s, “the English found foreigners treated them better than they had treated themselves.”

This better treatment was also apparent in another respect, which can be summarised in a single word: chivalry. In the 11th century, chivalry had nothing to do with later perversions such as laying cloaks in puddles for ladies, or inviting the enemy to take the first shot. It meant, essentially, not killing your enemies once they had been defeated. The Conqueror may have been savage in his warfare but once his political opponents had surrendered he either imprisoned them or sent them into exile. Occasionally he even let them go free in return for a promise of future fidelity.

This was all foreign to England, where the norm till 1066 had been to deal with political rivals by killing them. Æthelred the Unready (c968–1016) had succeeded to the English throne after the murder of his half-brother, Edward the Martyr, and later eliminated several of his enemies in similar fashion. His successor King Cnut began his reign in 1016 with a bloody purge of the English aristocracy. Even during the reign of the saintly Edward the Confessor it was possible to get away with murder, as the Northumbrian nobles who came to spend Christmas 1064 at court discovered when they were bumped off on the queen’s orders.

All this changed after 1066. “No man dared slay another,” said the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “no matter what evil he might have done him.” During the Conqueror’s reign, only one high-ranking Englishman, Earl Waltheof of Northumbria, was executed, and he was said to have been judged according to “the laws of the English”. Waltheof, beheaded outside Winchester in 1076, was the last earl to be executed in England till 1306. From 1066, executions of noblemen were exceedingly rare, and chivalry became a taboo that you broke at your peril, as the murderous King John later discovered. The Norman conquest, in other words, ushered in almost two and half centuries of chivalrous restraint.

The sudden replacement of one ruling elite with another meant that these new attitudes towards slavery and political killing were adopted rapidly in England. Beyond England’s borders, however, no such revolution had taken place, with profound consequences for the history of the British Isles. By the 1120s, English chroniclers such as William of Malmesbury were looking at their Welsh, Scottish and Irish neighbours with a fresh and critical eye, noting with distaste that they continued to slaughter and enslave each other. Such people were considered barbarians – the first time this distinction had been drawn in British politics. New attitudes imported by the Normans created for the English a sense of moral superiority over the Celtic peoples, which would help to justify and underpin their own aggressive colonial enterprises against those peoples in the centuries that followed.

None of this is intended as a defence of the Norman conquest. The price of such change was immeasurable pain for many English people. One effect much lamented at the time was the loss of artistic treasures. Anglo-Saxon craftsmen were famous for their skill in working precious metals, yet almost all the artefacts they created were either carried off as booty or melted down to pay mercenaries. And while we may admire the post-1066 Romanesque churches, those destroyed to make way for the new ones had in many cases stood for centuries. “We wretches are destroying the work of the saints,” wept Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester in 1084, as he watched the roof being ripped from his old cathedral, “thinking in our insolent pride we are improving them.”

Though the effect of the Conquest on the English language is nowadays seen as a positive, with Old English enriched by thousands of French loan words, few English people at the time can have viewed it in such benign terms. For at least two centuries before 1066, since the days of King Alfred, English had been used not only for writing religious texts but also for drawing up government documents. Shortly after the Conquest, however, the royal chancery switched to Latin, and in time so did the scriptoria of monastic houses, severing a vital link between the clergy and the laity. “Now that teaching is forsaken, and the folk are lost,” wrote an anonymous English author in the mid-12th century, “now there is another people that teaches our folk.”

Lastly, the Norman takeover entailed an enormous loss of life: the thousands who fell at Hastings were only the beginning. Some English observers, looking back several generations later, could see the positive changes brought by the Normans, but for those who lived through the experience, the Conquest felt like their world coming to an end. “Things went always from bad to worse,” sighed the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1066. “When God wills may the end be good.”

Marc Morris is the author of William I: England’s Conqueror (Penguin, 2016) and The Norman Conquest (Windmill, 2013)

How was land ownership affected by the Norman Conquest? The Battle of Hastings wiped out many great Anglo-Saxon noble families. There had been some 5,000 local landowners. William now gave their land to about 180 Norman barons.

Norman Conquest, the military conquest of England by William, duke of Normandy, primarily effected by his decisive victory at the Battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066) and resulting ultimately in profound political, administrative, and social changes in the British Isles.


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