the main features of the Norman Invasion

§  Introduction

The French from the North, influencing the fate of English literature, invaded the rainy and humid land of England. Without this coercive influence, English literature as we know it today may have taken a different shape. The Norman invasion was revived after the death of King Edward and his 23-year reign. King Edward had no successor to the throne. The reign of England was seen as the goal of three men, and they all went to the crown of King Edward.

The first man was Harold Godwinson, who was a very powerful man and a suitable son-in-law of King Edward. Many people agreed that he was the right candidate for the throne because of his relationship with the king. Before King Edward died in his kingdom, he read: “In the hands of Harold I commend my kingdom. (CITE) Many historians still wonder if this statement was actually made. A council of royal advisers, the Witans, declared Harold king, and his coronation took place on the same day as King Edward’s funeral.

The second was William, Duke of Normandy. William claimed he was the rightful heir, due to his blood relation to Edward. William also said that years before his death, Edward had chosen him as his successor. Suppose that King Edward had sworn on the holy martyr’s monument that he would support William as the successor to the throne. When William found out that Harold got the crown, it was a violation of King Edward’s holy oath and a violation of King Edward’s wishes. Because of the “breach of the sacred oath”, William received enough support to prepare and invade England. More importantly, the pope excommunicated Harold and condemned him and his followers to hellfire. The third contender was the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada. He confirmed his legitimacy to the throne through his nephew Mangus, who was allied with the Danish ruler of England, Harthacut. Neither Mangus nor Harthacut had male heirs and named the other as the ruler of their kingdom in case of death. When Mangus and Harthacut died, Harald rightfully claimed Mangus’s heir to take the crown from King Edward. The battles began with Hardrada’s victory on the north coast of England in September on his way to the city of York. Hadrada allied with Tostig, King Harold’s brother, to attack and take the throne. When the city of York was captured by the Vikings, more serious battles began. King Harold heard of the attack and quickly marched his army to surprise Hadrada at Stamford Bridge outside York on 25 September. The fight burned the bridge. Hadrada fell first, followed by Tostig, leaving their soldiers no choice but to flee to their ships. Harold, satisfied with his success, heard of the failure of William’s army near Hastings. On September 27, Harold set sail and found himself on the coast near Pevensey and headed for Hastings. On October 14, the battle began when William and the Normans began attacking the archers at the front. The battle lasted all day, until finally the Normans gained victory and killed King Harold and the rest of his army. Fortunately, William was crowned king at Christmas 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

And the most features of the Norman Invasion are :

· Conquest: Hastings to Ely

The conquest of England by the Normans started with the 1066 CE Battle of Hastings when King Harold Godwinson (aka Harold II, r. Jan-Oct 1066 CE) was killed and ended with William the Conqueror’s defeat of Anglo-Saxon rebels at Ely Abbey in East Anglia in 1071 CE. In between, William had to more or less constantly defend his borders with Wales and Scotland, repel two invasions from Ireland by Harold’s sons, and put down three rebellions at York.

1)     The Anglo-Saxon landowning elite was almost totally replaced by Normans.

2)     The ruling apparatus was made much more centralised with power and wealth being held in much fewer hands.

3)     the majority of Anglo-Saxon bishops were replaced with Norman ones and many dioceses’ headquarters were relocated to urban centres.

4)     Norman motte and bailey castles were introduced which reshaped warfare in England, reducing the necessity for and risk of large-scale field engagements.

5)     the system of feudalism developed as William gave out lands in return for military service (either in person or a force of knights paid for by the landowner).

· The Ruling Elite

a) The Norman conquest of England was not a case of one population invading the lands of another but rather the wresting of power from one ruling elite by another. There was no significant population movement of Norman peasants crossing the channel to resettle in England, then a country with a population of 1.5-2 million people. Although, in the other direction, many Anglo-Saxon warriors fled to Scandinavia after Hastings, and some even ended up in the elite Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors.

b) The lack of an influx of tens of thousands of Normans was no consolation for the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy, of course, as 20 years after Hastings there were only two powerful Anglo-Saxon landowners in England. Some 200 Norman nobles and 100 bishops and monasteries were given estates which had been distributed amongst 4,000 Anglo-Saxon landowners prior to 1066 CE. To ensure the Norman nobles did not abuse their power (and so threaten William himself), many of the old Anglo-Saxon tools of governance were kept in place, notably the sheriffs who governed in the king’s name the districts or shires into which England had traditionally been divided. The sheriffs were also replaced with Normans but they did provide a balance to Norman landowners in their jurisdiction.

· Motte & Bailey Castles

a) The Normans were hugely successful warriors and the importance they gave to cavalry and archers would affect English armies thereafter. Perhaps even more significant was the construction of garrisoned forts and castles across England. Castles were not entirely unknown in England prior to the conquest but they were then used only as defensive redoubts rather than a tool to control a geographical area. William embarked on a castle-building spree immediately after Hastings as he well knew that a protected garrison of cavalry could be the most effective method of military and administrative control over his new kingdom. From Cornwall to Northumbria, the Normans would build over 65 major castles and another 500 lesser ones in the decades after Hastings.

b) The Normans not only introduced a new concept of castle use but also military architecture to the British Isles: the motte and bailey castle. The motte was a raised mound upon which a fortified tower was built and the bailey was a courtyard surrounded by a wooden palisade which occupied an area around part of the base of the mound. The whole structure was further prote
cted by an encircling ditch or moat. These castles were built in both rural and urban settings and, in many cases, would be converted into stone versions in the early 12th century CE. A good surviving example is the Castle Rising in Norfolk, but other, more famous castles still standing today which were originally Norman constructions include the Tower of London, Dover Castle in Kent, and Clifford’s Tower in York. Norman Romanesque cathedrals were also built (for example, at York, Durham, Canterbury, Winchester, and Lincoln), with the white stone of Caen being an especially popular choice of material, one used, too, for the Tower of London.

· Domesday, Feudalism & the Peasantry

a) There was no particular feeling of outraged nationalism following the conquest – the concept is a much more modern construct – and so peasants would not have felt their country had somehow been lost. Neither was there any specific hatred of the Normans as the English grouped all William’s allies together as a single group – Bretons and Angevins were simply ‘French speakers’. In the Middle Ages, visitors to an area that came from a distant town were regarded just as ‘foreign’ as someone from another country. Peasants really only felt loyalty to their own local communities and lords, although this may well have resulted in some ill-feeling when a lord was replaced by a Norman noble in cases where the Anglo-Saxon lord was held with any affection. The Normans would certainly have seemed like outsiders, a feeling only strengthened by language barriers, and the king, at least initially, did ensure loyalties by imposing harsh penalties on any dissent. For example, if a Norman were found murdered, then the nearest village was burnt – a policy hardly likely to win over any affection.

b) At the same time, there were new laws to ensure the Normans did not abuse their power, such as the crime of murder being applied to the unjustified killing of non-rebels or for personal gain and the introduction of trial by battle to defend one’s innocence. In essence, citizens were required to swear an oath of loyalty to the king, in return for which they received legal protection if they were wronged. Some of the new laws would be long-lasting, such as the favouring of the firstborn in inheritance claims, while others were deeply unpopular, such as William’s withdrawal of hunting rights in certain areas, notably the New Forest. Poachers were severely dealt with and could expect to be blinded or mutilated if caught. Another important change due to new laws regarded slavery, which was essentially eliminated from England by 1130 CE, just as it had been in Normandy.

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