The Norman Conquest of England

Instructor: Jason McCollom

Jason has a PhD.

The Norman Conquest is a central event in England's history. Learn how William the Conqueror subdued the Anglo-Saxons in England and created a new regime with long-lasting effects.

The Lead-up to the Norman Conquest

As King Edward the Confessor lay dying in late 1066, he worried about the future of his kingdom. Edward had no male heir, meaning England didn't have a clear ruler waiting in its wings. He knew that without an agreed-upon successor, his kingdom could dissolve into violence, with competing factions fighting to take control of England. Unfortunately for Edward, that is exactly what happened.

Earl Harold Godwinson, a member of England's great noble families, ended up claiming the throne. Harold, however, was not related to Edward by blood, so this left the door open for a challenger.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Edward and Harold
bayeux tapestry

William of Normandy and the Battle of Hastings

That challenger came not from England but from France--Normandy, to be exact. William of Normandy (soon to be William the Conqueror) had a legitimate claim to the English throne. He was the cousin of the recently deceased Edward the Confessor and he saw the Anglo-Saxon kingdom (as England is sometimes referred to) as his rightful inheritance. William organized a powerful military of heavily armed knights and cavalry units and set out to cross the English Channel and take the throne by force.

In late September 1066, William of Normandy and his army landed on the coast of England, and clashed violently with the Anglo-Saxon army of King Harold. But Harold's men were no match for William the Conqueror's men, who smashed the English decisively on October 14 at the Battle of Hastings. At Christmas in London in 1066, William became king of England, and ruled for 21 years until 1087.

William the Conqueror triumphs at the Battle of Hastings
william normandy

England Under William

One of the most significant changes William imposed on England was centralizing royal control over the kingdom. Until William arrived, the king of England had only limited control, as wealthy families controlled most of the land and acted more or less independently. But William changed that. First, he sued the Domesday Book to identify who exactly owned and rented which lands, and then he used force to convert as much as 20% of England under royal control.

The second important change William imparted was to make sure all English subjects were loyal and subordinate to him. William divided much of England among his Norman followers, who formed a French-speaking aristocracy directly subordinate to royal power. English landowners now became vassals to these powerful lords when William demanded they swear loyalty to him in the Oath of Salisbury Plain in 1086.

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