The Norman Conquest: History & Events

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the circumstances that led to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Also we will briefly discuss the couple of years after 1066 when William the Conqueror solidified his rule.

The Norman Conquest

Every country has historical dates that loom large in its history. 1776: America declares independence from Great Britain. 1865: the end of the Civil War. 1964: the Civil Rights Act. These are some of the most important dates in our country's history. They represent defining moments that shaped our nation.

Of course, other countries have these important dates too. For example, one of England's most important dates is a bit older: 1066. That was the year of the Norman Conquest of England which ended the line of Anglo-Saxon rulers in England and irrevocably changed the nature of kingship and governance in the country. In this lesson, we will investigate the events of 1066 and their consequences.

1066

What made 1066 such a momentous year in English history was the death of the English king, Edward the Confessor. Edward died childless, and because he died without a natural heir, there were several claimants to the throne. William, the Duke of Normandy, claimed the English throne for his own. He claimed that in 1051, Edward the Confessor had made him a promise to bequeath him the English throne should Edward die childless. Harold Godwinson, another potential claimant to the throne, also traveled to Normandy in 1064 and swore to defend William's claim to the throne.

Why Harold did this is not entirely known, especially as it is clear he had designs on the throne himself! After all, at the time, Harold was the Earl of Wessex which was the most powerful earl in England. He was a regular at the English court, while William was based on the European continent in France. In any case, Edward declared on his deathbed that Harold was his heir as the new King of England.

As Harold fought off other claimants to the throne (including his own brother, Tostig), William gathered support and men from his strongest earls and barons in Normandy in preparation for an invasion of England. With 4,000-7,000 men, William invaded in September. Harold raced his soldiers south to meet him, and the two forces met at Hastings in mid-October. At the Battle of Hastings, in October 1066, Harold's army held strong at first before William rallied his forces. Harold died in battle, and William's army prevailed.

Consolidating Conquest

But the fight was not over for William, who is known as William the Conqueror because of his exploits at the Battle of Hastings. He headed to London immediately. Much of England preferred to remain loyal to their local English lord and did not accept a foreign interloper from the continent like William. He spent the next few months consolidating control of southern England, buying the loyalty of those he could and fighting those he could not. By Christmas, William had secured the loyalty of the most powerful earls and barons of England and he was crowned King of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Christmas Day, 1066.

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