The Norman Conquest



The Aftermath of Conquest

bullet Edward the Confessor was the son of a Norman mother and had brought many of his Norman friends to England.  But the impact of William's conquest was immensely greater.
bullet William replaced much of the English aristocracy with his own Norman followers; both his and their successors long regarded their Continental interests as just as important as their English possessions.
bullet Initially William's hold on England was far from secure. He faced rebellions in Kent in 1067-8, at Exeter in 1068, and - the most serious - in the North of England in 1068.  The revolt was centered on Northumbria, led by Edgar the Ętheling (Atheling)  and supported by the Danish fleet and Malcolm III, King of the Scots.
William sent Robert de Comines to suppress the rebellion, but he and his forces were defeated in January 1069, and the rebels captured York. William counterattacked and devastated much of Northern England.

One of William the Conqueror's earliest English coins

One of those who resisted William the Conqueror was a Lincolnshire thegn called Hereward the Wake, who later became a legendary folk hero.
He and Earl Morcar of Northumbria tried to defend the region around Ely in 1070-1071. After their defeat, Hereward organized a kind of guerilla resistance in the region, the memory of which survived in a later fictionalized, romantic account.


bullet In 1070, William made peace with Swein of Denmark and in 1071-2 invaded Scotland and forced Malcolm III to submit, and to expel Edgar the Ętheling  who had been given refuge there.
[Malcolm III married Margaret (1045-93) who was Edgar the Ętheling's sister. One of their children was Matilda of Scotland (1079-1118) who married Henry I of England. It is because of these unions that the present royal family of England traces its descent all the way back to the Anglo-Saxon kings of England].

France c. 1000 AD


After 1072 William spent much time in France.
Normandy was initially allied with Flanders, but intermittently at war with first Henry (1031-60), then Philip of France (1060-1108) and with Geoffrey I Martel and Fulk "le Rechin" ("the rude") of Anjou.

bullet In fact, William died during military operations in France in 1087 - probably from stomach injuries caused when his horse shied, throwing him violently against the pommel of the saddle.

 The impact of the Norman Conquest


1066 is probably the most remembered date in English history - recognized by people who know virtually nothing else about Britain or history. But some have questioned whether it should really be regarded as such a significant and revolutionary event. The answer revolves especially around three issues:


Whether the Norman Conquest fundamentally altered social, legal and political relations by introducing a new "feudal system"?
[What is feudalism?]


How sophisticated was the bureaucracy of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, compared with Norman bureaucracy?


Just how much land and how many offices came under the control of foreigners (Normans and their allies)?



Feudal England



Some evidence suggests that feudal relations were already developing in England before the Conquest - for example, service was due in return for bookland.


However it was only after the Conquest, and in particular during the 12th Century, that the full system of feudal obligations developed.


The KING - ultimate lord of all the land in England


Tenants in chief - who held their fiefs (feudi) directly from the king, generally by knight's service

(Until 1290, Subinfeudation allowed a mesne lord to enfeoff tenants of his own).

Sergeanty which required specific non-military services, from artisans, lawyers &c.

Frankalmoign  - the tenancy most often granted to religious institutions, giving them land in return for spiritual services.

Feudal tenancies


Knight's service

bullet A tenant by knight's service was obliged to equip and support one fully-armed horseman for forty days of royal service each year.
This obligation was incumbent on each fief;  if a tenant held (say) fifty fiefs, then fifty knights were required. By the mid 12th Century, land held in knight's service supplied the king with approximately 6,500 knights.
[In practice, the king often accepted a cash payment (scutage) in lieu of the knights' attendance - this was then spent on hiring mercenaries].

When the tenant received or inherited his land he had to pay a relief or fine. (Failure to pay gave the lord the right to take back the land.) Additionally, tenants-in-chief who inherited were subject to primer seisin - the right of the king to a year's profits of the inherited land.


"If any earl, baron, or other person that holds lands directly of the Crown, for military service, shall die, and at his death his heir shall be of full age and owe a relief, the heir shall have his inheritance on payment of the ancient scale of relief. That is to say, the heir or heirs of an earl shall pay £100 for the entire earl's barony, the heir or heirs of a knight 100s. at most for the entire knight's fee, and any man that owes less shall pay less, in accordance with the ancient usage of  fees".

(Magna Carta 1215)


bullet If a vassal's lord was captured, an aid was liable from the tenant to help with the costs of ransom.
[A ransom of 100,000 marks of silver was paid for the release of Richard I in 1194; he had been captured, and was held by the German Emperor, 1193-94].
bullet If the tenant's heir was still a child (under twenty-one in the case of a boy, under fourteen in the case of a girl), the lord could administer the land until the ward came of age. The lord could also arrange the ward's marriage. Rights of wardship and marriage were valuable, and not only for financial reasons. Disposing of a wealthy heiress and control of extensive estates allowed a lord to secure cooperative relationships and family bonds amongst his own circle of supporters.
bullet If a tenant died without heirs his land escheated (returned) to his lord. This right, too, was valuable as mortality amongst noble families was high.


Socage & villeinage


bullet Lower down the social scale, socage tenure (sometimes known as free socage) was common. The tenant paid a money rent (sometimes rendering additional limited labor services), and other fines incidental on events such as his daughter's marriage or the knighting of his son.
bullet Socage tenure became gradually more common in Medieval England.
bulletVilleins made up the lowest rank of tenants. A villein was tied to the land, obliged to perform extensive labor services for his lord, and could not obtain any legal redress against his lord. Theoretically, a villein was a mere chattel, who could be imprisoned at will and whose possessions were not his own but his lord's. A villein could not marry or enter the church without his lord's permission.


Even a villein could not be killed or maimed, and custom soon began to set limits to the amount of labor a lord could require.

bullet At the time of Domesday Book, villeins made up a majority of Englishmen, but became rarer in the later Middle Ages.

The rulers of Norman England


The Norman Conquest not only changed the legal and social structure of England, but also led to an almost total change in the people holding land and therefore power. William I left only two major English landowners (Thurkill of Arden and Colswein of Lincoln) in possession of their estates, giving the rest to his Norman and other followers.

Only three English-born bishops remained in authority under William I - one was an old man who died in 1075; another had been educated on the Continent.

bullet Whole areas of England were given to William's supporters:  Kent to his half-brother, Odo of Bayeux; Hereford to William Fitz-Osborne; Cornwall to another half-brother, Robert of Mortain.
bullet By the end of William's reign, the royal family owned about 20% of English land, the top ten nobles 25%; and the church another 25%.
bullet It is more difficult to say how much land was taken by foreigners lower down the social scale  - at the time of the Conquest, 29% of Winchester property-holders had foreign names; by 1100, the figure was 62%.
bullet Other changes showed that native Englishmen were being edged from power. Latin became the official language of government after the Northern rebellions against William's rule.
bullet Both William and his barons were deeply concerned about developments on the Continent, especially France. England's policies were no longer directed by domestic concerns, and Scandinavia ceased to be the main area of foreign interest.



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