Norman conquest of England

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The Norman conquest of England in 1066 began with the invasion of the Kingdom of England by Duke William II of Normandy , which led to Norman rule over England after the Battle of Hastings . She is a major milestone in the history of England as she

  • Brought England closer to continental Europe,
  • pushed back the Scandinavian influence on the island,
  • set the stage for the Anglo-French conflict that would last into the 19th century ,
  • laid the foundations for one of the most powerful monarchies in Europe,
  • represents the beginning of the development of common law ,
  • prepared the most advanced administrative system in Western Europe as well
  • fundamentally changed the English language and culture.

The Norman conquest of England was the last successful invasion of the island.


Harold Godwinson swears an oath of allegiance to Wilhelm. Section of the Bayeux Tapestry, probably made in southern England, 2nd half of the 11th century

Probably shortly after the conquest, the events were recorded in version D of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle . Another contemporary source is the Vita Edwardi Regis , which is dedicated to Queen Edith, from whom the information is probably derived. In the late 11th and early 12th centuries, the "Eadmeri Historia novorum in Anglia" was added. The author Eadmerus was an Anglo-Saxon monk at the seat of the archbishop. Also worth mentioning is William of Malmesbury , an English monk who wrote the Gesta Regum Anglorum . He used the records and archives of Malmesbury Monastery . The Chronicon ex Chronicis , written in the 1120s, was written by an unknown author, believed to have been Jon and allegedly worked at the seat of the Bishop of Worcester . From a Norman point of view, the Gesta Normannorum describe the Ducum of the monk Wilhelm from the Jumièges Abbey in Normandy. He tries to justify the conquest of England as a legitimate practice. In contrast, the Gesta Guillelmi Ducis Normannorum et Regis Anglorum by Wilhelm von Poitiers are much more apologetic. The Bayeux Tapestry can also be counted as a narrative source. Around 1130 Ordericus Vitalis wrote the work Orderici Vitalis historiae ecclesiasticae , a 13-volume church history, which is also an important source for the profane events.


The Normandy is a region in northwestern France, in the 155 years before 1066 to a large extent by Vikings had been settled. In 911, King Charles the Simple of West Franconia allowed a group under their leader Jarl Rollo to settle in northern France with the intention of ending the devastation of the interior and protecting the coast from further raids. The idea turned out to be correct, the Vikings of the region became the Normans (Northmen), and the region became Normandy. The Normans adopted the culture of the local population and were baptized; they married into the population and took over the Langues d'oïl des Landes, which they mixed with Old Norse elements, creating the Norman language . They extended the area left to them to the west by annexing the Bessin , the Cotentin and the Channel Islands .

In England, however, the Viking raids increased during this period. In 991 the Anglo-Saxon King Aethelred II agreed to marry Emma , the daughter of Duke Richard I , in order to receive support in the fight against the invaders through dynastic connections. However, the attacks of the Vikings became so strong that Aethelred had to flee to Normandy in 1013, where the Anglo-Saxon kings then spent the next 30 years.

When Aethelred and Emma's son, the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor , died childless on January 5, 1066 and there was therefore no direct heir to the throne, a power vacuum developed. A total of five prominent applicants for the English throne appeared:

  • The first was Harald III. of Norway (Harald Hardråde), who raised his claims as the successor to Canute the Great , who ruled England from 1016 to 1035 as the Anglo-Scandinavian king.
  • The second was Duke Wilhelm II of Normandy, who referred to his blood relationship with Aethelred. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Eduard is said to have promised him the right to the English throne when Wilhelm visited England in 1051, which, however, in view of the fact that Wilhelm was engaged in a military conflict with Gottfried II from the House of Anjou , can be considered rather unlikely.
  • The third contender was Anglo-Saxon Earl Harald Godwinson of Wessex , the late king's brother-in-law. After his death, he was elected king in the traditional way by the Anglo-Saxon Witan , which made a dispute between the three applicants inevitable.
  • And his brother, Toste Godwinson , also laid claim to the English throne and therefore initially sought support from King Sven Estridsson of Denmark in vain . Then he went on to Norway, where he was able to win Harald Hardråde for a joint invasion of England.
  • Another heir to the throne, often forgotten, was Edgar Etheling , a great-nephew of Edward the Confessor, grandson of King Edmund Ironside and son of Eduard Etheling . After his father's return and his death in 1057, he was named by Eduard the Confessor as heir to the throne, hence the suffix Ætheling or Anglo-Saxon Æþeling , the name for the potential heir to the throne at the time. Unfortunately, however, Edgar was only 13 or 14 years old in 1066, so his claim was overlooked by the Witan.

Conquest of England

King Harald III of Norway invaded northern England in September 1066. Harald Godwinson had little time to raise his army. With her he marched north from London , surprised the Scandinavians on September 25 about twelve kilometers east of York and defeated them at the Battle of Stamford Bridge . Harald Godwinson's victory was almost complete: Harald III. and his brother Toste, allied with him, also fell, and the Norwegians were finally expelled from England. However, the success was marred by the fact that the Anglo-Saxon army emerged from the battle weakened.

In the meantime Wilhelm had put together a fleet of 600 ships and 7000 soldiers - considerably more than Wilhelm could recruit from Normandy alone: ​​His men came from all parts of northern France, but also from the area of ​​what is now the Netherlands and what is now Germany. Many of his soldiers were later sons who, according to primogeniture law, had no prospect of an inheritance with which they could secure their livelihood. Wilhelm promised them land and title from his conquests if they provided the horse, weapons and armor themselves.

After being held up for a few weeks by bad weather and unfavorable winds, he reached the English south coast at Pevensey in Sussex on September 28, 1066, just three days after Harald Godwin's victory over the Norwegians - a delay that would be decisive for Wilhelm: Had he landed in August, as originally planned, he would have faced a rested and outnumbered Anglo-Saxon army.

Wilhelm immediately began to devastate the country. Harald forced a second forced march on his army and did not stop in London to give his men a break and wait for reinforcements to arrive.

The decisive battle , the Battle of Hastings , took place on October 14th. The fights remained undecided for a long time until Harald II (Godwinson) fell victim to a Norman cavalry attack that evening. The Anglo-Saxon troops then fled the battlefield and William was now the only applicant for the crown of England.

After his victory at Hastings, William marched through Kent towards London, where he met fierce resistance in Southwark . He continued on Stane Street , one of the ancient Roman roads , to join another Norman army on the Pilgrims' Way at Dorking, Surrey .

The united army bypassed the city of London, moved up the Thames valley to the fortified Anglo-Saxon city of Wallingford (Oxfordshire) , whose commander Wigod was already on Wilhelm's side, and who married his daughter to Robert D'Oyley of Lisieux from Wilhelm's immediate vicinity. Here he also accepted the submission of Stigand , the Archbishop of Canterbury . William then moved north-east along the Chiltern Hills to Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire , where he awaited the submission of London and also accepted the homage of the remaining Anglo-Saxon nobles. He was proclaimed king around the end of October and was crowned on December 25, 1066 in Westminster Abbey .

While the south of England quickly submitted to Norman rule, the resistance, especially in the north, lasted six years until 1072, when William moved north and appointed Norman masters on his way. On the other hand, he also made agreements , especially in Yorkshire , with the local Anglo-Saxon rulers who kept their land under the sovereignty of Norman lords, who in turn only ruled from a distance, which enabled him to avoid lengthy disputes. In order to secure the border with the Welsh principalities, William appointed his confidante William FitzOsbern as Earl of Hereford in 1067 . FitzOsbern defended the border offensively and began the conquest of Wales in the same year , which, however, could not be completed until over 200 years later.

Hereward the Wake led an uprising in the Fens in 1070 that sacked Peterborough . Harald Godwinson's sons attempted an incursion into the south-west of England. There were also riots in the Welsh Marches on the border between England and Wales and in Stafford . Most dangerous, however, were the attempts by the Danes and Scots to occupy the country. Wilhelm's victories over these attempts led to the devastation of Northumbria in order to make the supply impossible for the enemy, a process that went down in the history of England as The Harrying of the North , the sack of the North .

Rule over England

After England was conquered, the Normans faced a number of challenges in order to secure their rule. The Anglo-Norman- speaking new upper class was far inferior in number to the English population, their number was estimated by Alfred Leslie Rowse in 1979 at around 5000 people. The Anglo-Saxon rulers were used to complete independence from the central government, while the Normans had a centralized system which the Anglo-Saxons bothered about.

Revolts broke out under the leadership of Harald's relatives or disappointed Anglo-Saxon nobles, which Wilhelm countered in different ways. The Norman lords built a multitude of moths and castles to prevent popular uprisings or the now rare Viking raids and to dominate the nearby cities or the surrounding area. Every Anglo-Saxon nobleman who questioned the legitimacy of Wilhelm's accession to the throne or was involved in one of the revolts was deprived of land and titles and passed on to Normans. If an Anglo-Saxon nobleman died with no offspring, a Norman became his successor.

Keeping the Norman nobility together as a group was all the more important since any disturbance could give the Anglo-Saxon-speaking population an opportunity to divide and perhaps get rid of the Norman-speaking ruling minority. Wilhelm countered this danger by giving up only small pieces of land, so that every Norman nobleman typically had property scattered all over the country, in England as well as in Normandy, whereby the nobleman should try to get away from his To release the king, he was only able to defend a small part of his property - the temptation to rebel was greatly reduced, and loyalty to the king was much higher.

On the other hand, this policy facilitated contacts within the nobility across the entire kingdom and led to them organizing and acting like a social class , unlike in the other feudal states, in which the regional basis was more decisive. Furthermore, the existence of a strongly centralized monarchy encouraged the nobility to ally with the urban bourgeoisie, which influenced the development of the English Parliament and thus the rise of English parliamentarism .


The Norman conquest of England had an impact not only on the island but across Europe.

One of the most obvious changes was the introduction of the Latin -influenced Anglo - Norman language as the language of the ruling class in England, which replaced the West Germanic Anglo - Saxon language . Anglo-Norman retained its status as a leading language for nearly 300 years and had a significant impact on the vocabulary of modern English , without significantly changing the West Germanic sentence structure.

Another consequence of the invasion was the almost complete disappearance of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and the Anglo-Saxon influence on the Church in England (as early as 1070, William replaced the previous Archbishop of Canterbury , Stigand , with the Italian-born Lanfrank von Bec ). The Norman land policy meant that the Domesday Book from 1086 only records two Anglo-Saxon landowners. In 1096 all dioceses were held by Normans.

No other medieval conquest had such catastrophic consequences for the former rulers who had lost them. Wilhelm's reputation among his followers knew almost no bounds, as he was able to give them large estates without having to bear the costs himself. In addition, his awards increased his position of power in the country, since every award of land or title obliged the new master to build a castle and subjugate the inhabitants. As a result, the conquest continued without further action by the king.

Management systems

Before the Normans came, the Anglo-Saxons had built one of the most advanced administrations in Western Europe. England was divided into administrative units, Shires , which were roughly the same size and each ruled by a person, officially known as the shire reeve (hence the term sheriff ). The Shires were largely autonomous with no effective central control. They also worked much more in writing than was customary in Western Europe at the time, so they were less dependent on the oral communication of information.

In addition, they established a permanent presence of the administration on site - most medieval governments were constantly on the move, and held court essentially depending on the weather, the food options and the like. This practice limited the possibilities of administration to what could be loaded onto horse and cart, including the state treasury and the state archive. The Anglo-Saxons had their treasury permanently in Winchester , Hampshire , from where a permanent government apparatus began to develop.

The Normans adopted this form of administration and expanded it. They centralized the Shires' autonomous system. The Domesday Book is an example of the written documentation that enabled the Norman assimilation of the conquered territories through a central census . It was the first nationwide census in Europe since the Roman Empire and significantly improved the taxation options in the new Norman sphere of influence.

Anglo-Norman relations with France

Largest extent of the Angevin Empire (possessions colored throughout, areas with Angevin domination checked)

Political relations between the Anglo-Normans and France became difficult and sometimes even hostile after the invasion. The Normans retained power in Normandy, where they continued to be vassals of the French king . At the same time, their ruler was equal to him as the English king . On the one hand they owed the King of France, the fealty not, on the other hand, when the king of England Pair or peer was the king of France. In the 1150s, after the creation of the Angevin Empire , they controlled half of France and all of England, yet were legally French vassals. The crisis came in 1204 when the French King Philip II August occupied the entire English property in France with the exception of Gascony . This later led to the Hundred Years War when the English kings tried to regain their property in France.

Cultural development in England

Some historians believe that the invasion sidelined England culturally and economically for nearly 150 years. Few kings actually resided in England for any length of time, preferring to be in the cities of Normandy, such as Rouen , and to concentrate on the economically more important French possessions. In fact, less than four months after Hastings, Wilhelm left the country, handed the government over to his brother-in-law and returned to Normandy - the country remained an unimportant appendix to Normandy and later to the Angevin Empire of Henry II and not the other way around.

According to other authors, the Norman king Dukes have neglected their continental territories, where they theoretically the French king lehnspflichtig were to prefer their power to consolidate in England. Resources flowed preferentially to the building of cathedrals , castles and administration rather than the defense of Normandy. Thus, the energy was fragmented, the local nobility strengthened, and Norman control of the borders weakened, while the power of the French king grew at the same time.


The extent to which the conquerors remained ethnically separated from the population differed regionally and along class boundaries. Not until the 12th century were there reports of marital connections between Anglo-Saxons and Normans. Over the centuries, especially after 1348, when the Black Death clearly decimated the English nobility, the groups intermingled in such a way that they were hardly distinguishable.

The Norman Conquest was the last successful invasion of England, although some historians see the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as an invasion as well. The last real attempt was that of the Spanish Armada of 1588, which was defeated by the English fleet and stormy weather. Napoléon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler prepared to invade Great Britain, but the plans were not put into practice (see: Operation Sea Lion ). On the other hand, some minor military operations within their limited scope were quite successful, such as the small Spanish action against Cornwall in 1595, the raids by Arab slave traders also in Cornwall in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the American attack on Whitehaven during the American Revolutionary War .


Individual evidence

  1. Christian Uebach: The conquests of the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans in England . A comparative analysis. Marburg 2003. pp. 109-113.
  2. See also: Companion of Wilhelm the Conqueror
  3. ^ Alfred Leslie Rowse: The Story of Britain , Artus 1979, ISBN 0-297-83311-1 .
  4. "sheriff, n." OED Online. June 2012. Oxford University Press. Link (library access is required), accessed September 9, 2012.

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