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The Normans that invaded England in 1066 came from Normandy in Northern France. However, they were originally Vikings from Scandinavia. From the eighth century Vikings terrorized continental European coastlines with raids and plundering. The proto-Normans instead settled their conquests and cultivated land. Over time they assimilated into medieval European society, abandoned paganism, and upheld conventional Christian norms.

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Norman migration map

At the beginning of the tenth century, the French King, Charles the Simple, had given some land in the North of France to a Viking chief named Rollo. He hoped that by giving the Vikings their own land in France they would stop attacking French realms. From there they would cultivate land, join the feudal economy, and be a source of manpower the king in times of warfare.

The land became known as Northmannia, the land of the Northmen. It was later shortened to Normandy. The Vikings intermarried with the French and by the year 1000, they were no longer Viking pagans, but French-speaking Christians.

They still held to their Viking enthusiasm of conquest abroad, howerver. In the year 1030 a group of Normans conquered land in Italy. By 1099 they had taken over most of Southern Italy.

Although the Normans are best remembered for their military achievements—particularly in the Crusades—they also showed remarkable skill in government, especially in Italy.

The Normans established many schools, monasteries, cathedrals and churches in both Italy and England and after conquering England built many castles to defend their new land.

Good sources for history of the Normans include the buildings, many of which survive to today, writings of the men of the time, and the Bayeaux Tapestry, which shows the Norman invasion and conquest of England.

“The Normans: A History of Conquest”

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The Normans: Art of the Normans: They Bayeux Tapestry

(See Main Article: Art of the Normans: They Bayeux Tapestry)

The Bayeux Tapestry is a piece of embroidery measuring approximately 231 feet by 20 inches. Worked in colored wool on bleached linen, it tells of William of Normandy’s rightful claim to the English throne and his subsequent invasion and conquest of England in 1066. The style of the stitching indicates that the Tapestry was made in England.

History has recorded that the Bayeux Tapestry, was probably commissioned of the Embroiderer’s Guild by William the Conqueror’s brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, to celebrate the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

More recently, embroidery students have argued that the Bayeux Tapestry is an amateur piece of work that was in fact stitched by the ladies of the court of the Normans.

Read the evidence below and decide for yourself.

The Normans: The Embroiderer’s Guild made the Bayeux Tapestry

  • The size of the piece and the speed at which it was made suggests that it could only have been made by professionals.
  • Bishop Odo became Earl of Kent after the Conquest.
  • Canterbury, Kent was home to Europe’s leading school of embroiderers.
  • Odo of Bayeux is shown in many of the scenes both as a clergyman and as a soldier.

Bayeux tapestry showing Odo of Bayeux

Odo of Bayeux (left) is shown with his brothers. William (centre) and Robert (right)

For more detailed analysis visit 1066.com

The Normans: The Ladies of the Court made the Bayeux Tapestry

  • In France the Bayeux Tapestry is known as Queen Matilda’s Tapestry. Matilda was William’s wife.
  • It is worked in a very quick and simple stitch called ‘laid work’ that was not used by the Guilds of the day.
  • Patches of unpicking and re-working are clearly visible. The Guilds would have taken care to cover any sign of re-working.
  • The figures shown are very simply drawn.

Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry showing how blocks of wool have been laid onto the linen and stitched in place.

William the Conqueror: Overview

(See Main Article: William the Conqueror: Overview)

William, the illegitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, was born at Falaise Castle, Normandy, in 1027 or 1028. He was known as William the Bastard.

When his father died in 1035, William was named as his successor.

By the time that he was twenty-seven, he had earned himself a good reputation as a strong leader. He defended Normandy well from repeated attacks by the French and was feared as a military leader.

William’s Claim to England


William was a distant cousin of the English King Edward the Confessor and claimed that Edward, who had no children, had promised him the throne of England. He also claimed that when Harold Godwineson had been shipwrecked off Normandy, he had sworn to support his claim.

When Harold Godwineson was crowned King of England, William, with the approval of the Pope, began planning an invasion to take what was rightfully his.

Harold’s Claim to England

Harold was born around 1020, to one of the richest men in England, Earl Godwin. After his father’s death he became a loyal supporter of Edward the Confessor and married the daughter of the Earl of Mercia.

Harold claimed that when his ship had been blown into Norman waters, he had been taken prisoner and had been forced to support William’s claim to secure his release. He also claimed that Edward promised him the throne on his deathbed and that he was the rightful King of England.

The Normans: William the Conqueror Timeline

(See Main Article: William the Conqueror Timeline)



Detailed Information

Oct 1066 William took treasury Following the defeat of Harold at the Battle of Hastings, William made it his first priority to gain control of the English treasury. He then marched to London to crush English resistance which was gathering around Edgar Atheling, grandson of Edmund II and Saxon heir to the English throne.
Late Oct/early Nov 1066 William took London William mounted a campaign of devastation in and around London which forced Edgar Atheling to surrender.
25 Dec 1066 Coronation of William William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.
1067 Distribution of land William distributed land to his trusted Norman barons. He was careful to ensure that no one man was given too great an area in any given region. The estates were also scattered all over the country to easily put down any sign of rebellion against Norman rule.
1066 onwards The feudal system All land belonged to the crown. One quarter was treated by William as personal property and the rest was leased out under strict conditions. The country was split into manors which were given to Barons by the King. In return the Baron and his Knights had to serve on the royal Grand Council, pay various dues and provide the King with military service when required. The Baron kept as much land as he wished for his own use, then distributed the rest among his Knights who were thereby bound to meet the Baron’s military needs, when either he or the King called for them. The knights in turn allocated sections of their lands to villeins (serfs) who had to provide free labour and food and service whenever, with or without warning, it was demanded.
1067 William returns to Normandy William returned to Normandy, leaving England in the hands of two trusted regents. The first, Odo of Bayeaux, William’s half-brother who was made Earl of Kent and the greatest landowner in England. It is thought to have been Odo who commissioned the Bayeaux Tapestry. The second was William Fitz Osborn, a good friend of William’s who was also granted extensive lands and the title Earl of Hereford. He was a notable castle builder.
Sept 1068 Birth of Henry I A fourth son, Henry, was born to William and Matilda of Flanders at Selby, Yorkshire.
11 May 1068 Coronation of Queen William’s wife, Matilda, was crowned Queen consort at Westminster Abbey or in Winchester cathedral.
1070 Taxation Tithes were introduced. Under this system, the population had to pay one-tenth of their annual increases in profit for the upkeep of the church.
1070 William refused to allow the church power Although William was very religious, he refused to allow church authority to be greater than his own. Some existing English Bishops were deposed and William insisted that all future church appointments should be Normans. William would allow no bishop to visit Rome or correspond with the Pope without his express permission.
1070 Ecclesiastical/ Lay courts William separated ecclesiastical courts from lay courts and brought many of the church’s everyday functions under the authority of common law.
1070 Devastation of the North William’s new barons grew quarrelsome. They taxed and bullied the defeated Saxons until revolt broke out all over the country. The Saxons had the backing of Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland and Swein Estrithson, one of William’s rivals for the throne. William returned from Normandy and, despite recognising the guilt of many of his Norman barons, he burned and slaughtered his way to total submission of the Saxons. Large areas of Yorkshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire were left derelict following the brutal harrying of William’s forces.
1071 Hereward the Wake defeated. A revolt against William by Hereward the Wake was put down. This eliminated the last major resistance to William’s place on the throne.
1072 Forest Law William, who loved hunting, made large areas of woodland subject to Forest Law. This meant that not only the animals that lived in that specific woodland, but also the leaves on the trees belonged to the King. This law made life very difficult for those living nearby since it was now against the law for them to kill animals in the forest for food and to gather sticks for a fire.
1073- 1076 William to Normandy Because England was now relatively secure, William spent much of this time in Normandy defending it from increasingly hostile neighbours. The main threats to Normandy were King Philip of France and Count Fulk le Rectin of Anjou.
1078 Curthose Defects William’s son, Robert Curthose, who had never been allowed to enjoy either money or power, started working against his father.
1085- 1086 Threat of invasion William returned to England to ward off a threatened invasion from Scandinavia.
1086 Domesday Book The Domesday Book was a survey of England compiled under the orders of William. It is thought to have been carried out because of a need for more money. The survey was carried out by commissioners, grouped in about eight teams that travelled from county to county. The teams were led by bishops who asked questions, under oath, of the people. Records that still exist today show that over 13,000 towns and villages were surveyed. The findings showed that over a quarter of the land belonged to William and his family, two-fifths were shared between the Barons and the church owned the remainder.
July 1087 William injured The garrison of the French fortress of Mantes made a raid into Normandy. William retaliated and sacked Mantes, receiving the injury from which he was to die.
9 Sept 1087 William Died William died in France from wounds received at the siege of Mantes. He left Normandy to his eldest son, Robert Curthose. He left both his sword and the English crown to his second son William. William I was buried in St Stephen’s Abbey, Caen, Normandy.

The Normans: The Events Leading to the Norman Conquest of 1066

(See Main Article: The Events Leading to the Norman Conquest of 1066)

Edward the Confessor

8 June 1042 Accession of Edward the Confessor Edward returned from exile in Normandy to claim the English throne. However, he was not popular with the  Anglo-Danish aristocracy established by Cnut.
3 April 1043 Coronation of Edward the Confessor Edward was crowned King of England at Winchester Cathedral.
23 Jan 1045 Marriage of Edward to Edith Edward married Edith, the daughter of Godwine, Earl of Wessex, the wealthiest and most powerful English subject. However, because of his religious views, Edward was unwilling to consummate the marriage. There would therefore be no heir to the throne from the marriage.
1045 Harold Godwineson titled Harold Godwineson was created Earl of East Anglia.
1051 Rebellion by Godwine Edward ordered Godwine, as Earl of Wessex, to sack Dover in retaliation for a brawl in which several men were killed. Godwine, however, refused and raised troops against the King. The Earls of Mercia and Northumbria were ordered to raise troops against Godwin. The situation could have resulted in civil war, but many nobles feared foreign invasion and withdrew their support from Godwine. Godwine and his family were exiled.
1052 Rebellion by Godwine Godwine returned to England with a large force and insisted that the King banish several of his Norman nobles. The king had no choice but to do as Godwine asked.
15 April 1053 Godwine died. Godwine died. His son, Harold Godwineson succeeded to the Earldom of Wessex and became the dominant power.
1055 Tostig inherited Northumbria. Harold Godwinson’s brother Tostig inherited the Earldom of Northumbria.
1057 Return of Edward and Edgar Ironside. Edward, son of Edmund Ironside, who had been exiled by Cnut, returned from Hungary with his infant son Edgar. He was heir to the throne of England but died soon after returning. His son, the young prince Edgar, was technically the heir to the throne, but the prospect of an infant King was not favourable.
1058 Harold Godwineson Harold Godwineson was created Earl of Hereford.
1060-66 Westminster Abbey Edward devoted much of the rest of his life to the building of Westminster Abbey. He left the running of the country to the Nobles, especially Harold Godwineson.
1062 Welsh raid England King Gruffydd ap Llewelyn of Gwynedd, ruler of Wales, made a series of raids on England. The combined forces of Harold Godwinson and his brother Tostig were needed to drive ap Llewelyn back to Wales. He died in 1063
1064 Godwineson meets Duke William of Normandy Harold Godwineson was shipwrecked off the coast of Normandy. Some historians believe that Duke William of Normandy held him captive until he had sworn on Holy Relics to enforce William’s claim to the throne of England. Others believe that Harold offered his support willingly.
1065 Tostig exiled. The Saxons of Northumbria rebelled against Earl Tostig, Harold Godwineson’s brother. Although Harold mediated Tostig was eventually exiled. As an exile he was technically Harold’s enemy.
4/5 Jan 1066 Death of Edward the Confessor Edward the Confessor died at the Palace of Westminster. He was buried in the new Westminster Abbey.

Harold Godwineson (Harold II)

4/5 Jan 1066 Accession of Harold Godwineson Although he had promised to support William, Duke of Normandy’s claim to the English throne, Harold allowed himself to be elected King as soon as Edward had died. The move was taken because it was feared that the Norwegian King, Magnus, and his son, Harald Hardrada, would invade England to claim the English throne through their descent from Harthacnut.
6 Jan 1066 Coronation of Harold II King Harold II was crowned King of England at St Paul’s Cathedral
Jan 1066 Invasions planned As news of the accession and coronation of Harold Godwineson spread, both William of Normandy and Harald Hardrada of Norway, Harold’s rivals for the English throne, raised forces and planned to invade England.
1066 Marriage of Harold to Edith Harold married Edith, the daughter of Alfgar, Earl of Mercia.
20 Sept 1066 Battle of Fulford Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, allied with the Orkney Vikings and Harold Godwinson’s brother Tostig and invaded the north of England. The combined forces of Mercia and Northumberland led by earls Edwin and Morcar were heavily defeated outside York. Harold was forced to march his army north to fight off the Norwegian invasion.
25 Sept 1066 Battle of Stamford Bridge Harold Godwineson surprised Harald Hardrada’s forces as they rested outside York. Both Hardrada and Tostig were killed and the invading forces defeated. Harold had recovered Northumbria but his army was considerably weakened.
27 Sept 1066 Normans set sail When he heard that Harold had been forced North, William mounted his invasion. A fleet of ships carrying about 5,000 warriors, horses, arms and supplies left France, paid for by William’s brother, Odo, bishop of Bayeux.
28 Sept 1066 Normans invade William Duke of Normandy landed at Pevensey in the South of England and began a march towards Hastings where a wooden fort was built. Harold Godwinson’s weakened army were forced to march rapidly South.
14 Oct 1066 Battle of Hastings Harold’s army had returned South and Harold, hoping to surprise the Normans, as he had the Norwegians, decided not to wait for reinforcement by the fyrd or thegns.The battle took place at Senlac Hill. Harold ordered his Saxon army to make a shield wall at the top of the hill. William’s army made the first attack but were held off by the shield wall. Successive attacks by the Normans continued to be held off by the shield wall. Some time later, however, some Saxons thought they heard a cry that William had been killed. The Saxon’s believing that they had won the battle, broke the shield wall and chased the retreating Normans down the hill. This gave the Norman horseman the opportunity they had been waiting for. Charging into the Saxon foot soldiers they cut them down before riding up the hill to break the remnants of the shield wall.The battle lasted all day and towards the end of the day Harold fell, popularly thought to be from an arrow in the eye, but actually from a sword blow wielded by a mounted Norman Knight. The English infantry was broken, William had won the battle. He gave thanks for victory by founding an altar and later an abbey at the place known afterwards as Battle.


“Why the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England Changed Everything—Jennifer Paxton”

For the full “History Unplugged” podcast, click here!

The Normans – Harald Hardrada & Stamford Bridge

(See Main Article: Harald Hardrada & Stamford Bridge)


Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, like William of Normandy, believed that the English throne should be his, not Harold Godwineson’s.

The Normans – Background to Hardrada’s Claim

Edward the Confessor, who had died childless in January 1066, had seized the English throne back from the Norwegian Harthacnut in 1042. Harthacnut was the son of the Viking King Cnut who had ruled England from 1016 – 1035.

Hardrada claimed that Harthacnut had promised the English throne to King Magnus of Norway. Magnus was an old King and had chosen not fight Edward the Confessor for the throne. Harald Hardrada succeeded King Magnus to the throne of Norway and when Edward the Confessor died he decided to take the English throne for himself. Hardrada began planning his invasion.

Stamford Bridge

The Normans – September 20th 1066 – Battle of Fulford

Harald Hardrada, with a fleet of more than 300 ships, and the support of Harold Godwineson’s brother Tostig, sailed up the river Humber and landed just south of York. Two powerful Earls in the north, Edwin and Morcar, hurriedly mustered an army. They were heavily beaten by the invaders.

The Normans – Harold Godwineson’s Problem

Harold Godwineson knew that if Hardrada were to be defeated he had to take his army north to fight him off. However, Harold was also aware that William of Normandy’s invasion force was ready and would sail as soon as the wind changed. If he marched north he would have to leave the south coast unprotected and his army would be forced to march hundreds of miles north, fight a battle, then march back to the south coast and the possibility of another battle.

Stamford Bridge Map

25th September 1066 – Battle of Stamford Bridge

Godwineson decided to march north and fight off the Norwegians. He believed that he could reach the north, defeat the Norwegians and return back south before the wind changed. After a rapid march north, Godwineson’s army caught the Norwegians by surprise at Stamford Bridge. The result was a firm victory for the English.

Both Harald and Godwineson’s brother, Tostig were dead as were hundreds of Norwegian soldiers. Godwineson ordered a huge banquet to be held at York to celebrate the victory. However, the celebrations were cut short when news reached Godwineson that William of Normandy had landed on the South Coast.

Norman Ship

Medieval Life – Feudalism and the Feudal System

(See Main Article: Medieval Life – Feudalism and the Feudal System)

The feudal system was introduced to England following the invasion and conquest of the country by William I, The Conqueror.

The feudal system had been used in France by the Normans from the time they first settled there in about 900AD. It was a simple, but effective system, where all land was owned by the King. One quarter was kept by the King as his personal property, some was given to the church and the rest was leased out under strict controls.

The Normans


The King: Leader of the Feudal System

The Normans

The King was in complete control under the feudal system (at least nominally). He owned all the land in the country and decided to whom he would lease land. He therefore typically allowed tenants he could trust to lease land from him. However, before they were given any land they had to swear an oath of fealty to the King at all times. The men who leased land from the King were known as Barons, they were wealthy, powerful, and had complete control of the land they leased from the King.

Barons: Executors of the Feudal System

The Normans

Barons leased land from the King that was known as a manor. They were known as the Lord of the Manor and were in complete control of this land. They established their own system of justice, minted their own money, and set their own taxes. In return for the land they had been given by the King, the Barons had to serve on the royal council, pay rent and provide the King with Knights for military service when he demanded it. They also had to provide lodging and food for the King and his court when they traveled around his realm. The Barons kept as much of their land as they wished for their own use, then divided the rest among their Knights. Barons were very rich.


The Normans

Knights were given land by a Baron in return for military service when demanded by the King. They also had to protect the Baron and his family, as well as the Manor, from attack. The Knights kept as much of the land as they wished for their own personal use and distributed the rest to villeins (serfs). Although not as rich as the Barons, Knights were quite wealthy.


The Normans

Villeins, sometimes known as serfs, were given land by Knights. They had to provide the Knight with free labor, food, and service whenever it was demanded. Villeins had no rights. They were not allowed to leave the Manor and had to ask their Lord’s permission before they could marry. Villeins were poor.

What Were the Crusades?

(See Main Article: What Were the Crusades?)

The Crusades that were known as “Holy wars,” were military campaigns of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. Pope Urban II was the first pope who inspired people to the take part of the first crusade of 1095. The Pope’s speech was so motivational; thousands of people took a cross and fastened it to their garments, hence the name “crusade”. The idea behind the first crusades was to restore Christian access to the Holy Land. The first crusade was very successful and ended with the capture of Jerusalem.

200 Year Struggle

After the first crusade took place, a 200-year long conflict ensued. The Christians established several Latin Christian states in the Holy Land, while the local Muslims fought back to regain what they considered to be theirs. The Crusaders had other Christian allies in the Byzantine Empire, but relations soured during the Third Crusade and escalated in the sack of Constantinople. By 1291, the Christian rule of the Holy Land had come to an end when the Mamluk dynasty in
Egypt destroyed Acre, the last stronghold.

What Was the Black Plague?

(See Main Article: What Was the Black Plague?)

The Black Death, also often called the “bubonic plague” was an epidemic of disastrous proportions that is said to have killed up to 50% of the European population in the 1300’s and around 12 million people in China in the 1800s. According to historians, the Black Death came from the East (Either China or Mongolia) and reach Italy in 1348, during the spring. So many centuries later, it is hard to determine the exact cause of death, which is why several theories exist. The most widely adopted theory is that it was caused by rats, but other theories claim that it may have been a viral infection.

Bubonic Plague

According to the “bubonic plague” theory, the disease was a bacterium, Yersinia pestis spread by fleas that lived on infected black rats, which typically live in close proximity to humans. Once a colony of rats has been killed off due to the disease, starving fleas would jump over on humans. Symptoms are flu-like, with headache, fever, weakness, and swollen lymph glands or “bubos,” hence the name “bubonic.” Humans would show their first symptoms three days after infection and 80% of those died within five days after onset. The Bubonic plague still exists in pockets today, but thanks to modern medicine, only 1 out of 7 of those that become infected die. The fact that the Black Death claimed larger portions of the population in the countryside than in urban areas supports the fact that it was spread by fleas.

The High Middle Ages

(See Main Article: The High Middle Ages)

The High Middle Ages were a period of incredible technological innovation, architectural design, and artistic production. Nevertheless, myths about the period’s backwardness and ignorance remain. Below is an excerpt from a book by medieval and Renaissance scholar Anthony Esolen on myth and fact about the High Middle Ages.

We all know what the High Middle Ages were like. My freshmen knowThey’vlearneifrothinfalliblauthority known as High School Platitudes.

First, the High Middle Ages were dark. People lived in squalor. Beset by terrible fears, they burned kindly old ladies peddling herbal remedies, calling them witches. They made no progress in the natural sciences. They knenothinothworlbeyontheitimanplaceanhano desirtknowTheistudiewernarroandogmaticanthfew greamindotheierplietheiintelligenctdiscovehomany angels could dance on the head of a pin. Life was so miserable that most people, especiallthdirt-peasanmajorityliveonlfothnexworld, placing all their hope in a heaven beyond the stars.

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Warmer is better

The third factor is a subtle one. We hear a lot about global warming these days, and since I’m no geologist I won’t venture an opinion, except to say that in history the great threat to man has not been warming but cooling. Its obvious why. If you shorten the growing season by a few weeks and makthsummehighs a littlcooleryoremovmillionoacreof land from the plowYou put stubby grass and mosses where cattle used tgrazothsavannah, and yoturn intsavannawhausetbe prime land for growing cereal grains.

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Coolinweathecausethe occasionally faileharvestBuiharvests are only fair, any outright failures will deplete your stores of grain. People grow sickly. Life expectancy drops. Population shrinks. The cities—dependent upon storable grain—emptyTown life withers away. People cannot afford the division of labor that allows for scholars, accountants, merchants, sculptors, actors, whatever. Back to the land, they go: for man needs bread.

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The monks retained a healthy respect for hierarchy and law. Imagine what imighbliktbuild aeconomihospowhere nothinbut black firs and mosquitoes had been, without a clear and effective chain of command. At the same time, they inherited the Christian revelation that Christ came for all men, not only for the rulers. Their model of hierarchy and equality, or equality expressed by obedience and Christ-like service, exerted a powerful influence upon the villages that grew up around the monasteriesantheupomedievalifgenerallyFoChrisHimself waobedienteveunto deatupon a crossanthereforesayPaul, every knee shall bend to Him, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. So despite wickedness and selfishness, which we will always have with us, the people of the High Middle Ages knew that the soul of a peasant was no less worth saving than was the soul of a duke. That meant that, as harsh as serfdom could be, the continent could never quite slide back into slavery. The irrepressible movement in the High Middle Ages is towards freedom.

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