Category Archives: The Normans

Anglo-Saxon and Normans

Anglo-Saxon Sword

How different were the Anglo-Saxons and Norman societies on the eve of the conquest? Each having the same ancestral heritage.  Each were Scandinavian immigrants who had chosen to settle in a new land and take over from its ruling aristocracy. English and Norman social structures were very similar.  Both societies, believed land was the defining currency. The Lord owned the land, and he parcelled it out amongst his followers in return for service. They in turn settled upon the land as minor lords in their own right, surrounded by a retinue of warriors to whom they would grant gifts as rewards for good service and as tokens of their own good work they would receive the greatest gift; land.

Success in war generated more land which could be passed around. If a lord wasn’t successful in battle or not generous enough, it wouldn’t be long before his followers would desert him and seek out a ‘better’ lord. The warrior fought for his lord; they were both serviced by non-fighting tenant farmers who owed their livelihoods to the lord; and below them came the unfree slaves.

The basic building block of the system was the Hearth. On his land, the Lord owned a hearth-hall, which he housed his retinue of warriors. His tenants would bring their produce to this hall, feeding and maintaining the retinue. In return, the Lord provided all on his land with security. It was when he was unable to provide that security that the lord got worried: lack of security defined a ‘bad’ lordship.

10th Century Anglo-Saxon England had been complicated by a highly chequered history. Which had seen pre-Norman Britain become the most organised state in Western Europe. The king controlled land divided into shires, on which taxation was assessed and levied. These taxes were collected in coin from the burhs and fresh coin was minted 3 times a year in 60 royal mints arranged throughout the country. It was a very Roman system.

According to Anglo-Saxons, the Normans be second or third generation immigrants of Northern France, and according to their history, the land of Normandy was granted to their founder, Rollo in 911. His successors ruled the frontier on behalf of the Frankish king. So it was the Norman system was coloured by Frankish practice, each had their own way of who owned and looked after the land, and supplied warriors for battle.

On one hand the Norman Duke had the power to call out men who would down tools and join him in battle, he usually relied on his military, which was a complex set of family ties and loyalties he had established with the great magnates who occupied his land. By the time of William the Conqueror, this relationship had hardened which saw Norman nobles; his faithful men join him in battle.

Though Norman dukes controlled the coinage in their own domain, no coins had been minted since the time of William’s grandfather. The duke still called upon his nobles to provide an army when he wanted to go to war, and they obliged in the expectation of a share in the spoils of conquest.

In the crucial months leading up to the Battle of Hastings, Harold was faced with limitations when he called for warriors to defend Britain from the likes of these Norman warriors.

With both Britain’s Anglo-Saxons and France’s Normans both using similar hearth systems, when Britain lost the Battle of Hastings to William’s Norman knights, both systems could be integrated quite smoothly.

William introduced the Domesday Book, which illustrated that little had changed just name of the landlord. Villages remained much the same as they had for hundreds of years: woodland measured in the number of pigs it could support and mills and minor industries.  Some villages were transformed with the addition of a Norman castle.

Normans introduced a major change into English law. Prior to the Conquest, cases were tried in front of juries selected from the hundred on the basis of Trial by Ordeal, or Trial by Oath Taking.

Oath Taking, a Saxon process whereby a man would rely on the oaths of his lord and peers to vouch for his innocence and good name – the higher the status of your oath-helper, the better your chances of success.

These were complemented by the Norman practice of Trial by Battle, in which the judgement of God was determined not by the speed it took you to heal from the Ordeal, but by the success of your champion in battle.


Norman England: The Domesday Book

The Domesday Book
The Domesday Book

The Norman invasion of 1066, was led by Duke William of Normandy, who became William I (William the Conqueror), King of England.  He who was a descendant of those pagan Vikings, who attacked coastal communities from Scandinavia, who settled in the Seine Valley in 911.

When King Edward the Confessor died, Harold seized the English throne, and Edward’s promise that William should succeed him, was ignored.  This precipitated a Norman attack, as William claimed his right to the English throne.

England of the 11th century was not only an old country, but one stepped in wealth, one of which was English wool being exported to Europe…

So the Domesday Book was born, for he needed to know how much his new kingdom was worth.  Who owned every piece of land, those who lived and worked it, how much livestock, and set it down as a record.

They recorded the name of the estate, whose name it was in, how much livestock, ploughs, slaves, freemen, sokemen, wood, meadow, pasture and mills.  How much each freeman and sokeman had, and its considered value, thereof.

For it was a record of estates and manors, and how much tax could be levied across the country as a whole… an estate liability.

After the Norman Conquest, William initiated a change of estates and manor ownership, which would be recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.  Some 180 large estates and manors formerly owned by Anglo-Saxons, changed hands to that of Norman Barons.

6,000 farmers, who owned their land, now had to lease it from their new Norman masters.

The Domesday Book described a conquered country to a King, who never uttered a word of the English language, but wanted a detailed record of its ownership, and estimated value for tax purposes.  It paints a picture of early medieval England, with its Feudal System, Local Government and Taxation.

The Doomesday Book was a new start for the country, whose roots were firmly rooted in the past.

Of the sixteen Anglo-Saxon Bishoprics, only one survived, the others were moved to large centres under Norman leadership, and all six Anglo-Saxon Sees were changed to Norman.

By the year 1200, most of the Anglo-Saxon Cathedrals were destroyed and replaced by Norman-Styled Architecture of which many still exist to this day.

William took over a country, down to the last blade of grass, and developed a system, run by his Norman officials, from central to local officials.  For he needed England’s wealth in taxes to pay for his army.

So a demand for tax would be sent to a shire, by representatives of the court, which would carry the royal seal, often backed by military forces to ensure payment.

When Edward the Confessor died, and Duke William of Normandy his chosen successor finally claimed the English throne.  Who would have believed he would milk the country dry by means of taxation, to pay for his own army…

Emma of Normandy

Emma of Normandy
Emma of Normandy

Emma of Normandy was an intriguing medieval woman born around 990 AD to parents; Richard I of Normandy and Gunnor a Dane.  Emma was both Viking and Norman, and her great grandfather, a Viking named Rollo, was founder of the lands known as Normandy.

In 1002, aged just twelve she left France for England, she was destined to marry Aethelred II (Ethelred) of England.  This marriage would create an alliance between France and England.  Emma being a descendant of both Viking and Norman would marry an English King and bear a Norman child.

King Aethelred’s intentions of this marriage, was to prevent the Normans from joining forces with Vikings and take on the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Aethelred escorted his young bride to Canterbury, where they were married and she was crowned Queen in 1002, and duly given an English name; Aelfgifu, after the Kings grandmother.

For hundreds of years, Vikings had raided Britain’s coastlines, and many had chosen to settle here, taking an Anglo-Saxon wife.  So it was fair to say, a large proportion of the population were Danes or descendants thereof.

On the 13th November 1002, St.Brices Day, marked Aethelred’s response to these Viking raids upon his lands, with large scale massacre’s of the Danes living in Britain.

The Viking response to such actions, led by Swein Forkbeard, inflicted a brutal attack upon Britain.  Exeter, the Queens property was destroyed, showing she was not exempt from these attacks.  However, she being of Viking and Norman blood, her reputation amongst her subjects lay in tatters, their trust in her, all but gone.

The Vikings made concerted attacks upon Britain, and by 1009 all able bodied men were called upon to defend these shores against the Viking onslaught.  Their efforts, against savage warriors failed, as by 1011, large parts of southern Britain were now under Viking control.

Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut landed in the northern parts of the country, and were met with little opposition, as they submitted to these Vikings.

Emma, the wife of a failed King, demanded protection of her brother, Richard in Normandy, whilst Aethelred fled to the Isle of Wight.

Swein and his sons, Harold and Cnut, pushed away the Anglo-Saxon dynasty and became the first Viking rulers of Britain.  Swein became King on the 25th December 1013, and made Gainsborough in Lincolnshire his capital.

Just five weeks later, Swein died and Aethelred returned to his kingdom to salvage what he could from a ravaged country.  In 1016 King Aethelred died.

Emma may have had no love for her husband Aethelred, but his death left her not knowing what future lay ahead for her.

The people of London, chose Edmund as their new King.  Edmund sensed Cnut the Dane poised to fight for the crown, but offered a compromise, they split the land in two… Edmund died before the deal had been completed.

Cnut became King in 1016, and took Emma as his wife, his trophy between old and new.

Cnut showed his commitment, by bringing Anglo-Saxon and Danes together.  Emma provided good judgement, as they formed a close working relationship.  One of her most trusted advisors in matters concerning the church was Stigand, who would become Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saying that, she had to be careful and watchful of Earl Godwine a close and trusted advisor to Cnut.

Emma bore Cnut a son; Harthacanute and a daughter, Gunnhild, future contenders to the English crown.

Cnut ruled Britain as well as Denmark, which meant Emma watched over his kingdom during his long absences.

Many precious gifts were bestowed upon the church, but most remembered has to be the “Golden Cross” at Winchester.

In 1035, Cnut died without naming his successor, and Emma found herself in a precarious situation once again.

Emma moved into the royal quarters at Winchester, surrounding herself with Cnut’s belongings…  Who would be the next King, would determine her safety.

Cnut’s first wife; also named Aelfgifu proposed her son Harold Harefoot, whilst Harthacanute remained in Denmark, fighting to protect his Danish kingdom.  The decision was made by Noble Lords who allocated the north to Harold and the south to Harthacanute.

Emma’s sons by Aethelred; Edward and Alfred sailed to England with their armies.  The Earl of Godwine intercepted Alfred who had landed in Kent, to accompany him to Winchester, to meet with his mother and brother.

It was a ploy orchestrated by Earl of Godwine, who had Alfred taken prisoner and accused of acts against Anglo-Saxons at London, then taken to Ely where his eyes were gouged out… he died later of his wounds.

Edward headed back to the safety of Normandy, upon hearing of Alfred’s death.

In 1040 Harold died and Harthacanute dug up his body, beheaded it, and tossed it into the River Thames.

Upon the death of Harthacanute in 1042, the Earl of Godwine fought off claims by descendants of Swein Forkbeard.  Edward “Edward the Confessor” was crowned King with Earl Godwine running much of the country on his behalf.

On the 3rd April 1043, Emma takes up her position, by taking command of Edward’s treasury at Winchester.  Edward did not take kindly to his mother assuming this position, and took the treasury keys from her, and suggests she moves out, for she is not welcome at Winchester Castle.

In 1052 Emma died, and was buried alongside her second husband; Cnut in Winchester.

In 1066 Emma’s son, Edward the Confessor died childless leaving no successor, and Harold Godwine, son of Earl Godwine elected by Nobles and Church leaders became King.

On the 14th October 1066, one of the most significant dates in English history, witnessed Emma’s great nephew William, the Duke of Normandy “William the Conqueror” successfully take on Harold II at the “Battle of Hastings” and claim the English crown.

Wikipedia Image

The Norman Conquest

Battle of Hastings
Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings, took place on the 14th October 1066; The Saxons led by King Harold against the Norman army led by Duke William of Normandy.

In little over two months, Harold the last Saxon King of England, lost his life on the battlefield.  William, saw the English throne in his grasp, and went on to capture Dover, Canterbury and London.  He was crowned King of England on the 25th December 1066 and the Saxon era was over, and the Norman Conquest was beginning.

Resistance by Saxon’s to these Norman’s was mostly limited to the outer reaches of the kingdom.  With the Church and Government in his grip, it wouldn’t be long before these remaining Saxon’s accepted the rule of the Norman’s.

William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror

William had taken this land with only a small invasion force… he had to control some two million Saxon’s until more Norman troops arrived.  Nobles, Lords and Landowners, who might have stood up against the Norman’s, were lying with their armies on the battleground at Hastings.

Some Nobles opened their arms, and welcomed these Norman’s onto English soil, like the Saxon Lord of Wallingford; Wigod, who went on to assist William’s entrance into London.

England has seen invaders of the past, come and go, like Cnut and the Danes.  It is this, that made some believe, William and the Norman’s would be short lived, like Stigand, the then Archbishop of Canterbury.

William’s new Kingdom of Britain was not as free of rebellion as he had hoped; resistance continued for many years.  In January 1069, the Yorkshire inhabitants made up of Scandinavian descendants, rebelled against these Norman’s, and William and his army quelled the flames of rebellion.

In the autumn of 1069, King Swein of Denmark landed in Yorkshire, firing the rebellion against the Norman’s once again… The Danes were forced to withdraw.

William was determined to put an end to rebellions from the north of his kingdom.  He ordered his men to burn houses, crops and slaughter all livestock between the River Humber and Durham.  There followed many years of famine in the north; thousand’s starved to death, and it took years for the land to recover from this horrific event.

Meanwhile, Danish forces sailed south, plundering Peterborough and made the Isle of Ely their base.  Some rebels led by Hereward the Wake joined the Danes.  In June 1070, the Danes left, having made a treaty with William and by 1071 the Saxon rebels in the Fens had surrendered, and Hereward had escaped capture.

King Malcolm III of Scotland (1058-1093) offered exile to Anglo-Saxon Nobles, and assisted their attempts in re-claiming northern parts of England in 1069… There was a price to pay!

Malcolm was looking to the future, by marrying Margaret; daughter of Edward the Aetheling and sister of Edgar Aetheling as his Queen.  She bore him four sons; Edward, Edgar, Edmund and Ethelred.  These four sons with English names, could be used in claiming a seat on the English throne… one would say he was very devious in his outlook.

William marched north with his army in 1072, and confronted Malcolm at Abernethy… would they battle, a question both men more than likely asked themselves.  Yet it was Malcolm who made the first step towards peace; one a King of Scotland, and the other King of England.  Malcolm accepted that William was Lord over his Lothian province; these lands which were once part of England in Northumbria.

A battle had been averted, but William was wary of this Scottish foe, leading him to order the strengthening of the border between their two countries with castles.

Once William had been crowned King of England in 1066, he granted English Landowners and Lords, who had been loyal to his cause, that they could keep their lands.

After 1070, many Saxon landowners, had lost faith in their new King, which led William to instigate a police of Normanization; Norman’s took over their lands.

William needed land to compensate his loyal Norman followers.  What better way, confiscate these Saxon lands… was it a wise move? For it led to numerous revolts up and down the country.

William and his Barons forced marriages to Norman’s by Saxon widows and daughters inheriting estates.

He didn’t stop there with his reforms, replacing Stigand the Archbishop of Canterbury with his own man; Lanfranc, formerly Abbot of Caen.  Then Latin and Norman French became the accepted languages used by the Church and Government.

These Norman’s who had invaded England weren’t farmers, they were warriors at heart, and their origin was Viking.  The King gave them land; they returned the service with highly trained and armed knights, to do battle for their King.

These Norman Lords built castles to emphasise their presence and authority in these former Saxon lands.  Early defences were built from earthen mounds and stockades, later stone versions were the norm, like Windsor Castle.

In 1085 William started a survey of these lands, which led to “The Domesday Book” of 1086, which informed the Crown, the wealth of his lands.

Birth of the Normans

Viking Ship Wallpaper
Viking Longship

Viking sea-raiders from Scandinavia created fear, attacking coastal lands of Western Europe… They plundered; they killed and took captives to sell into a life of slavery.  They earned the reputation of showing no mercy!

Hrolf, leader of the Vikings pillaged the lands of North-Eastern France, around the area of the Seine River in 911.  The threat, the fear imposed upon King Charles of the Franks, led to a treaty with the Vikings at St.Clair-sur-Epte in 911.  Effectively this treaty gave large areas of France to the Vikings, thus creating the lands of Normandy around the mouth of the River Seine.

Some two generation’s on and the Viking lifestyle had changed.  They had taken under their wing, the language, religion, laws, customs and politics of the Franks.  They were referred to as the Northmen of Normandy, only later to be known as Normans.

Their desire for conquest, led Normans to pursue military goals abroad.  Normans went to Spain to fight the Moors; to Byzantium to fight the Turks; to Sicily in 1061 to fight the Saracens; and England in 1066.

The Norman Duke, William I, friend of Edward the Confessor, the Saxon English King who reigned from 1042-1066, and who supposedly promised the throne to William upon his death.

William the Conqueror
King William I of England…… William the Conqueror

William I had no choice, when Harold II claimed the English throne, which had been promised to him.  So these two armies met to decide who should be the rightful King of England.  The Norman style of fighting against the Anglo-Saxons… there was no real contest as William the Conqueror became King William I of England in 1066.  It was a brutal time, as thousand’s were slaughtered in battle, and more died through famine and disease.

Norman England added to Norman France created a powerful and rich territory across Europe.

William I ran England using the “Feudal System” where the King owned everything.  So that meant he rented everything to his Barons, and they provided him with as army when required.

The Domesday Book
The Domesday Book

These Baron’s leased out land to farmer’s etc, and so the Domesday Book of 1086 was produced, creating an inventory of the country…

Bayeux Tapestry Part 1
One section of the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry was instigated by William’s half brother; Odo and produced by Queen Matilda, William’s wife.  It provides one with a visual record of events in 1066.

The New Forest, which to-day is a National Park, was formerly lands located to the North-East of Southampton and commandeered by William I, as his exclusive hunting grounds.

The legacy left by the Norman’s has to be its Churches, Cathedrals and Castles, many of which were built out of stone, which stretched across this land of ours:

Durham Cathedral – Winchester Cathedral

The Nave Arcade of Norwich Cathedral (1094-1145)

The West Front of Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire (1108)

The Nave of Rochester Cathedral built by Gundulf (1080)

Tower of London – Windsor Castle

tower of london
The Tower of London

Anglo-Saxons versus Norman Cultural Differences

Battle of Hastings
Battle of Hastings

With the “Battle of Hastings” won by William in 1066, stability would be enforced upon England by these Norman invaders.  For they recognised this land they had conquered, was a land of wealth.

How different were the Anglo-Saxon and Norman societies at the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066?  Bearing in mind they had the same ancestral heritage.

One should never forget that the Anglo-Saxons and Normans came from the same basic stock.  They were both Scandinavian immigrant’s who had settled in another land, and taken over the ruling aristocracy or monarchy of the time.  Which means their structural way of life was similar.

Both the Anglo-Saxons and Normans desired land, you could say land was the currency by which each and everyone existed by.

The Anglo-Saxon System: For the Lord owned the land, which he shared out amongst his followers in return for service…  They became minor lords upon this land, surrounded by retinue of warriors, who would receive rewards for their service, and the greatest reward would be land.

Success in battle equals more land, more riches, which would be shared around.  If the Lord wasn’t successful or generous, his followers might offer their services to a better Lord.

The Lord led his warriors, and they fought for him.  They were both reliant on non-fighting tenant farmers, and below them came the slaves.

Therefore, the basic building block of the system was the hearth:  On his land, the overall Lord owned a hearth-hall within which he housed his warriors.  It was the responsibility of his tenant farmers to bring produce to the hall, to feed and maintain these warriors, in return all who lived upon his land received security…

By the 10th century, Anglo-Saxon England had become one of the most organised countries in all of Europe.  The King controlled a land divided into shires, upon which taxes were levied accordingly, and those taxes were collected from the burhs.

Over the previous two centuries, much had changed as a Germanic styled system had been integrated into the original form.  Basically, Anglo-Saxon Kings, changed the way it worked, instead of duties of the Lord, they imposed duties upon the land itself.  So the Lord, who owned the land, had to pay warriors to protect his lands and those who lived upon it.

In contrast the Norman system was simpler by design, for they were firmly entrenched in the past, and used the Lords hearth as other’s had done before them.

A Norman Duke could call upon his Norman nobles to bring forth his warriors in times of war, and they would expect a share in the spoils of conquest.

Norman warriors, were an elite military force, whilst the Anglo-Saxon’s their counterparts were nothing more than farming warriors, yet they proved themselves well in battle.

However, the Norman forces at the “Battle of Hastings” proved a formidable force, as Harold’s army was defeated.  One could say William had been lucky that day, for Harold was exhausted and led an army of battle weakened warriors.  For he had just fought and slew Hardrada and his Norwegian forces at Stamford Bridge in the north, on the 25th September 1066, then marched south to face the Norman’s on the 14th October 1066 at Hastings.

After the Norman Conquest of 1066, William changed things to match the accepted way as used by the Norman’s, one of these was: Determining whether a person was innocent or guilty of a crime.

Trial by Oath Taking, the Anglo-Saxon process whereby one would rely on oaths by your Lord and peers, who would vouch for your innocence… It is a wonder anyone was found guilty.

The Norman practice of Trial by Battle was introduced, in which your guilt or innocence was determined by the success or failure of your champion; in battle.