William the Conqueror & Politics and Art in the Dark Ages Video

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  • 0:05 Political Structure
  • 1:00 William, Duke of Normandy
  • 2:10 Battle of Hastings
  • 3:12 Tapestry & Domesday Book
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the life and deeds of William the Conqueror. In exploring the political backdrop of the Dark Ages, it will highlight the Battle of Hastings, the Bayeux Tapestry, and the Domesday Book.

Political Structure

The term Dark Ages is usually used to define Europe after the 5th century fall of the Roman Empire.

Due to the upheaval of the era, historical records are scarce. However, there are several people from this era who have made their mark on the history books. Today we'll be discussing one of the most famous: William the Conqueror. In order to understand his importance, let's take a look at the topsy-turvy political structure of the Dark Ages.

The political structure of the Dark Ages is known as manorialism. Within this system, the wealthy, usually called lords, owned land known as a manor. The peasant class worked on these manors and in turn were given food, shelter, and protection. Since wars were usually waging, outside trading opportunities were very scarce. To provide for themselves, manors were self-sustaining, producing what was needed for survival.

William, Duke of Normandy

This is the Europe in which William the Conqueror came on the scene and made his mark. Born in Normandy, of modern-day France, William became Duke of Normandy at a very early age. As duke, he set his sights on a unified Normandy under his power, and accomplished this great task by about 1060 CE. Now remember, he did this during the Dark Ages, so obviously this guy had some smarts and some military might. With all this going for him, he set his sights beyond Normandy. This leads us to his dealings with England.

When Edward the Confessor, king of England, died in the year 1066, he left no heir to take the throne. However, William of Normandy was a relative of Edward, and you better believe he was more than willing to wear England's crown. Unfortunately for William, there were several other English noblemen who felt they deserved the crown, the most popular and powerful of whom was Harold Godwinson. Making matters worse, the King of Norway - not Normandy but NORWAY - also threw his hat in the running!

Battle of Hastings

When the people of England chose Harold Godwinson as their king, the King of Norway invaded England. Seeing this, William the Conqueror devised a plan that gave history one of its most famous battles - the Battle of Hastings. Realizing the new King Harold of England had his hands full trying to ward off the King of Norway, William crossed the English Channel and made camp near the city of Hastings.

Harold was able to fight off the King of Norway, but tired and worn, he then had to face William. William, on the other hand, was fresh and ready for battle. He had had time to set up archers and a well-oiled cavalry of armed knights. When they finally met, Harold's tired foot soldiers were no match for William's fighting arsenal. Poor King Harold was killed in battle, and William conquered Harold's remaining forces at the Battle of Hastings. He was crowned King of England on December 25th, 1066.

Tapestry and Domesday Book

Perhaps in one of the most famous pieces of art from the era, the Battle of Hastings was captured by William's wife, and her royal ladies, in what has come to be known as the Bayeux Tapestry. In this famous work, they wove dozens of scenes depicting William's victory at the Battle of Hastings. Taking a decade to complete, the artful tapestry became a massive (and by massive I mean approximately 20 inches high and about 230-some feet long) narrative of the famous battle. These women gave all of history an artful record of one of the most famous men and battles of European History.

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