The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 was the invasion of England headed by the Duke of Normandy, William. The reasons were the claims of William to the English throne based on his statement that King Edward the Confessor had promised the throne to him. Therefore, the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 contributed to the completion of feudalism, which had begun in the Anglo-Saxon period. Thus, this paper introduces the information on 1066-1087 CE William the Conqueror and the Norman Conquest of England. It presents and discusses a brief biography of William the Conqueror, the reasons and background of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, and examines the consequences of that invasion.
Firstly, let us focus our attention on the biography of William the Conqueror. To start with, William the Conqueror was the Duke of Normandy (from 1035) and the King of England (since 1066), a major organizer and leader of the Norman Conquest of England, one of the greatest political figures of the XI century. William was born in 1027 or 1028 in the Norman town of Falaise. He was the only son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and his concubinage Herleva. Moreover, William the Conqueror was characterized as William the Bastard due to the illegitimacy of his birth. William of Malmesbury, an English historian of the XII century, stated about William the Conqueror “He was of just stature, ordinary corpulence, fierce countenance; his forehead was bare of hair; of such great strength of arm that it was often a matter of surprise…” (qtd. in Thompson and Johnson 440).
In addition, it is possible to add that William’s accession to the throne had huge implications for the development of England. He founded a single united kingdom, approved statutory provisions and a system of management. Moreover, he has created an army and a navy, conducted the first census of land (“Domesday Book”), and began to build stone fortresses.
Talking about the Norman Conquest, it is possible to say that it was the invasion of England in 1066 by the army of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and the subsequent subjugation of the country. Let us pay more specific attention to the background of the Norman Conquest. After Edward the Confessor’s death at the beginning of 1066, William the Conqueror began his preparations in order to invade and occupy England. Though he had received the approval from the Barons of his Duchy, but the forces, which had been given by them, were not enough for such large-scale and prolonged military operations outside Normandy. Moreover, William won the Emperor’s support and, more importantly, Pope Alexander II, who hoped to strengthen the papacy’s position in England and move Stigand, who was the archbishop of Canterbury. Pope Alexander II not only supported the claims of the Duke of Normandy to the English throne, but also presented his holy banner, and blessed the participants of the invasion. “Morally strengthened by the Pope’s support, Duke William began to recruit his invasion army” (Houts 832).
William’s reputation contributed to the influx of kings from Flanders, Aquitaine, Brittany, and Maine in his army. English King Harold also conducted the preparations for repelling the Norman invasion. He convened a national militia and placed troops along the southern coast. On 25 September, Harold utterly defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harald of Norway and Tostig were killed and the remains of the Norwegian Army sailed to Scandinavia. However, the significant losses, which were suffered by Englishmen at the Battles of Fulford Gate and Stamford Bridge, undermined the army’s fighting capacity.
All in all, in spite of heroic resistance, the British troops were defeated at the Battle of Hastings. The battle lasted a long time – more than ten hours that was quite rarely for the Middle Ages.
The Norman victory was due to better combat capabilities of soldiers and mass uses of archers and heavy cavalry. King Harold and his two brothers were killed and several thousand British soldiers were defeated on the battlefield. Thus, the Battle of Hastings was a turning point in the history of England.
According to Chibnall, “William became king and took over the government and traditions of the English kingdom” (117).
December 25, 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England at London’s Westminster Abbey. Thus, the Norman Conquest of England began with the victory of the Normans at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. After these events, William the Conquest became “King of England.” As a result of the conquest of England the classic forms of feudalism and the military system were transferred, and a centralized state with a strong monarchy was created. The Norman Conquest has also had a significant impact on the development of English culture and language.
Observing the social and political consequences of the Norman Conquest of England, it is necessary to note that an extensive land census, made by William throughout England, had an extremely important role in strengthening the feudal system in Britain. The above-mentioned census contained the data on the quantity of land, livestock, household equipment, information on the number of vassals, peasants, etc. Strengthening the trade ties with economically developed Flanders played a significant role in the development of the country’s economy. The English merchants used to trade with Flanders under the patronage of King William. London merchants extracted the significant benefits from this trade, because the capital served as a main international trade center with the continent. At the same time, William the Conqueror, using both his position and British political traditions, adopted a policy that contributed to the centralization of the state and strengthening the foundations of English royal power.
Culturally, the Norman Conquest of England has implemented the feudal culture of knighthood on the basis of the French samples. Old English was left out of the area of government, and the language of administration and communication of the dominant social classes was the Norman dialect of French. About three hundred years, the Anglo-Norman dialect prevailed in the country and had a great impact on the major ways of forming modern English words.
Taking the above-mentioned information into account, it is possible to draw a conclusion that the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 was the Norman invasion led by Duke William, who became King of England after the victory at Hastings. The Norman Conquest of England was the so-called catalyst for the development of the feudal relations and contributed to the final completion of the process of feudalism in England. After the Norman Conquest of England, the English feudal baronies (manors) took their final shape, and various categories of peasants were turned into dependent villeins.
Chibnall, Marjorie. The Debate on the Norman Conquest. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.
Houts, Elisabeth. “The Norman Conquest through European Eyes.” The English Historical Review 110.438 (1995): 832-853.
Howarth, David. 1066: The Year of the Conquest. London: Collins, 1977.
Thompson, James W., and Edgar N. Johnson. An introduction to medieval Europe, 300-1500. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1937.