bayeux_tapestry1The death of King Edward the Confessor on January 5th 1066 unleashed one of the most ruthless and patriotic dispute for the English crown. The trophy was an island rich in farmlands, forestry and ecclesiastical wealth.[1] The two strongest claimants to the throne were Harold Godwin and Duke William of Normandy. On the 13th October, Harold met Duke William of Normandy at the battle of Hastings. This battle was fought after a march of over 240 miles, from the North where Harold had defeated his brother Tostig and Harald Hardrada the Norwegian King. The Battle of Hastings lasted ‘day long’ The battle was lost by the Saxons who on a number of occasions had pursued the fleeing Normans on foot, allowing the Norman cavalry to attack them repeatedly from the rear. Towards the end of the day Harold was killed, seemingly incapacitated by an arrow wound and then cut down by cavalry.[2] 

 

 

   Victory at Hastings enabled William to establish a reasonably secure base in the south of England. This is remarkable since the Norman troops in England after the battle of Hastings, consisted of less than 7000 men. William maintained such dominance in an alien country by employing; way of effective military innovations brought over by the invaders from Normandy. Secondly he took advantage of Saxon disunity and finally the employment of feudalism was instrumental in solidifying land claims. The conquest of England was challeneged by the Ecclesiastical houses, Saxons in the North and tribal warlords in the kingdom of Wales.    

   With his victory at Hastings, William’s military strategies and needs changed suddenly. The frontiers of his lands, which were previously drawn at the Channel, now extended to the Anglo-Scottish border and the Welsh marches.[3] Moreover, he had to protect the duchy of Normandy from the king of France and neighboring magnates like the Duke of Anjou. Not surprisingly, the Normans brought important military innovations to England. The most important of these was the castle.[4] For two centuries the Saxon people were raped, brutalized and taxed heavily by Viking warriors. However, the castles provided protection from invaders and hostile Saxons if there was to be an uprising. The castles that were built by William the Conqueror were made of stone. The majority of the castles that were built were encompassed around merchant’s towns.  This was an efficient way to protect the wealth of the heavily taxed merchants and various proprietors of the Norman towns.

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  The goal of William was to build these castles in unprotected areas in the North and productive cities and towns such as Norwich, Preston and London. The tower of London began construction in the period of the conqueror. Castles were often built on hilltops or surrounded by water to make them easier to defend. This new fortification offset the guerilla and late night attacks of which the Saxon forces were capable. The Saxon villagers recognized the importance of a fortified structure like the castle. The Saxons soon recognized the Normans as their allies.   

   The second most important military feature was the fully armored knight on horseback. The armored knight was of great benefit when pursuing a fleeing army or small outfit. [5] One of the most important skills of a knight was his combat ability while mounted on a horse. This skill on a horse took many years to master and with his lance he could capably break the defensive lines of the foot soldier. For the next four hundred years the mounted knight would play an important role in warfare. The mounted Norman knight provided prestige or an elevated status over the indigenous to the land Celtic and Anglo Saxon people. In the opinions of the conquered Saxon people such invaders like Duke William were no better than robbers and villains. This is how at first the Anglo Saxon saw their Norman conquerors.[6] However, with the horse and construction of castles the Norman dynasty was able to thrive in England.

norman_knight_2-558x677

    Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the perplexed events that occurred in England between the beginning of 1067 and the spring of 1069 was the comparative ease with which the king and his lieutenants with few troops were able to suppress each uprising. This ease in defense is attributed to the harsh losses of the bravest of Saxon warriors at the battle of Hastings. Moreover, after defeat, many of the remaining influential figures hurriedly decided to leave for territories like Sweden, Norway and Prague. After 1066 the second institution of power in Saxon England at this time would have been the bishops.

   King William ransacked the rich bishoprics, gold, riches and Anglo Saxons scripts of the monasteries of England and sent them abroad to Normandy and as tributes to ecclesiastical diocese in Europe. Furthermore, he appointed his half brother Bishop Odo to become arch bishop of York and in 1070 the Italian Lanfranc became arch bishop of Canterbury. After the period of 1066, they would be no significant Anglo Saxon ecclesiastical figure in the country of England.  This is significant because it was the ecclesiastical houses and monasteries that educated the nobility. The foreign bishop would only use the Latin and French language. In less than three years the majority of the Saxon books and writings were gone from British soil. Moreover, after the stripping of their offices, many of the remaining influential figures hurriedly left the realm. After the events of Hastings lucrative businesses ventures and higher education could only be perceptible in Norman and Latin tongue. This breakup of the Saxon people created disunity and chaos in a proud culture. Moreover, the disunity is also caused by the abundance of culture within the territory of England. Prior to the formation of Norman rule in 1066, the territory of England had been occupied by the king Cnut and his offspring’s who were Danish, Norman and Anglo-Saxon. Before the Danes occupation of England the Saxons had migrated to England as mercenary soldiers to fight the Vikings. They soon grew in numbers and pushed the Celts to Ireland and Scotland. In less than three centuries the domain of England had witnessed four distinct cultures as rulers of England.  After 1066, the disunity would have occurred because there was no real feeling of nationalism to the crown. The Saxons of England were closely related to The German in the language they spoke (Old English), the Normans came from Scandinavia. Both groups of people could trace their origins back to Scandinavia. England was a country who was accustomed to foreign rule.  

   In the feudal system the King was in complete control. He was the sole owner of all lands in his realm and he decided to whom he would give this land as gifts. More accurately this was not a gift but a lease of land. The men who received land had to swear fealty to remain loyal to the King and they were obliged to pay taxes on these lands. The men who pledged fealty to a King were called Barons. They in turn gave some of their lands to knights who were sent out to fight for the King

  The villeins and slave were the lowest ranked in Norman society. The men and women known as serfs in England they were tied to the land. If you were a slave you most likely could not leave your demesne. After the conquest of Anglo Saxon England, a majority of the free peasants became tied to the land. (More important) the majority of the Saxon earls lost their lands to ambitious youngest sons and poor knights from areas such as Flanders, Brittany, Germany, Bruges and of course Normandy.    Therefore feudalism is a monetary system devised to engineer money and fighting men for the king against his enemies. This system efficiently gave the monarch control over his men. These men were willing to die for their King because by feudal law he could forfeit ownership of their lands. Feudalism effectively redistributed the lands to brave soldiers who fought at Hastings. Moreover, the feudal system rewarded wealthy Saxons who changed sides.  Feudalism also served an important role for Duke William in that he united the Saxon elite with lower ranked knights of his army. These lowly knights would marry the most beautiful daughters of the Elite Saxon class. This union of two cultures only served to restore some wealth and prestige to a defeated hierarchy.

   The redistribution of land was an ongoing process, began in 1066 but was incomplete even by 1100.[7]  The land was reclaimed by King upon forfeiture and death: it was continually used to rewards knights and sometimes even Saxon earls who had defended King William claimant to throne when the northern earls raised an uprising. King William would give gifts to his enemies. He was brilliant leader because he was very unpredictable. He would sometimes punish his allies too harshly and show mercy to his mortal enemies. Such is the case of his half brother Bishop Odo who was imprisoned for five years until he was persuaded to be released on Duke William death bed by his other brother Roger Mortain.        

   The English resistance first showed itself, not in armed defiance, but in stubbornness, when the monks sought out Edgar Atheling, whom they declared was the true king; because of his close blood relations to the legendary Saxon king Alfred the Great. Edgar could not do anything. On March 1067, King William went back to Normandy, taking all potential antagonists with him, including Edgar Atheling and the Earls Edwin and Morcar. England was left under the oppressive control of two Regents, until William returned in December 1067. [8]

    In 1068, Edgar Atheling, escaped from Normandy and appeared in Scotland. In Scotland the king was Malcolm Canmore, he gave refuge to English exiles, and married the English princess Margaret, sister of the pretender Edgar Atheling.[9] In January 1069 the people of Durham killed Robert De Comminees and many of his men. Edgar drove the Normans out of York, with the help of the Northumbrians. However William won back the city in a bloodbath and Edgar was forced to withdraw to Scotland.[10]  However William won back the city in a bloodbath and Edgar was forced to withdraw to Scotland.

    It was later that year that a Danish fleet arrived in the Humber with Swein Estrithson. King Swein of Denmark (a nephew of the late King Harold’s mother) sailed up the east coast of England with three hundred ships, and joined with Edgar and Harold Godwin mother the Normans suffered their heaviest defeat, but the Danes decided not to move south to London. King William then marched north, and burned all the land and killed the livestock. However, he did not attack the Danish fleet that wintered in the Humber River.[11] 

   Resistance continued with “King Harold’s sons, who had gone to the Norse east coast of Ireland, came and raided the West Country, where the Celtic Cornishmen joined them in arms. They plundered and ravished the countryside to such an extent that eventually  the English lost patience and joined with local Norman garrisons to expel them.”[12] In 1075 the Normans witnessed the revolt of the earls who had plotted to overthrow King William with the help of the Danes. Wales, too, provided the Normans with substantial cause for concern. The Welsh hero was named Eadric the Wild, together with other allies he reemerged from the hills and proceeded to attack and captured towns such as Shrewsbury, and Chester. In this period the Welsh Norman lords who had obtained their land before and during the time of Edward the conqueror they had refused to acknowledge William as their overlord.

   One of the great debates of history is how a comparatively small body of Norman adventurers had succeeded in conquering a nation such as England. William the Conqueror was a seasoned warrior who had faced death on countless occasions. He was given the dubious name of the bastard. But he elevated himself to become Duke and then a King.  The man had the qualities of a leader. William was cruel when he should have been kind and kind when he should have been harsh. The Norman strived in invasion and castle building. In fact a lesser known but equally brave group of Normans founded the Kingdom of Sicily and Calabria. The Normans were respected warriors in the known world of the 11th century. Along with their brothers the Vikings they had fought and settled in Russia and Byzantium. William had no real opposition only bands of men looking to cause trouble. Although Harold Godwin was anointed by the witan church he had no hereditary claim. If William had not invaded England a number of the Scandinavian kings and princes would have launched expeditions to conquer England.  One can understand why many might have welcomed a Norman victory as it at least promised an end to such activities and the restoration of some semblance of law, order and protection.

 

 

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