For the last time in its history England was conquered in 1066 by so called Normans led by William, later known as William the Conqueror.
It was the last case in the British history that the country was conquered. The Britons are very proud of that fact and consider it to very important in the formation of some political traditions. But this invasion was important for the formation of English state and culture.
Normandy was (and is) the Noth-Western part of France. When the Vikings were terrifying France king Charles the Simple made the treaty with the Vikings’ leader Rollon. He became the Duke of the Western France with the duty to serve with his men to French king. In France Vikings were called “Normans” – “the northern men”. In the XI Western France was ruled by the Vikings’ descendants of Scandinavians. But their culture was not Scadinavian, it was French. The country was inhabited by the people who spoke French. Up to the XIth century the upper strata of Normandy society were French knights in their language and culture. Only historically they had any relation to the Vikings. In the XI century Normandy was practically independent. It had the strongest cavalry in Europe and the best archers. England hadn’t cavalry at all.
William, the future conquer of Britain, was the son of the Duke of Normandy. William's father was a cousin of King Edward the Confessor of England, and when William was 24 years old he came to England to visit his cousin uncle. William was so impressed by its green meadows, that he made up his mind to become English king. Edward the Confessor liked his young nephew and before his death Edward had promised the British throne to William.
But the Anglo-Saxon nobles did not like the Norman king, and preferred to put another man on the throne. It was Harold the son of the Wessex Earl. When William knew about it he decided to invade England and to take what he had been promised. Harold, in his turn, was ready to fight William. He had to protect his land from the north. the Norvegian king declared that he also had some rights for the English throne and he landed with his army in the North of England.
Just at that moment William was going to cross the Strait of Dover. Very probably it was a an arrangement of William and the Norwegian king.
As the weather was not favorable for crossing the channel William decided to wait for some time. While he was waiting, Harold marched to the north to fight the Vikings. Harold won but had to march back to meet William. His soldiers were tired. At that moment William crossed the Channel. On landing in Britain he ordered to burn the ships. The main battle between Harold and William took place on 14 October, 1066 at Hastings. Harold was killed. The arrow struck him in the eye.
William marched to London. Nobody tried to stop him on the way, and he found the gates of the city open. He was met by the Saxon bishops and nobles. They knew that they could not stop William, so they asked him to be the King of England, and he was quickly crowned in Westminster Abbey. As you remember it was a Norman Abby. Since the coronations in 1066 of William the Conqueror, almost all British monarchs have been crowned in the Abbey.
In spite of coronation William didn’t trust the Londoners. To protect himself from possible attacks, he started building a strong tower on the bank of the Thames. This tower still stands. It is called the White Tower because it is built of white stone. Later the other buildings were added and the whole place was surrounded by a stone wall to form a strong fortress.
How do we call the whole construction now?
The Tower of London
For the last time in its history England was conquered in 1066 by the Vikings’ descendants who were French knights in their language and culture. The last Anglo-Saxon king Harold perished at the battle of Hastings. William didn’t trust the Londoners and built a fortress, called The Tower. Both Westminster and Winchester were his capitals.
- some parts of the country there were rebellions. But with the army of his barons and knights, William put down all the rebellions.
William took lands from Saxon nobles and gave them to his Norman barons who became new masters of the land. He gave the lands to his men in original manner. His nobles held separate pieces of land in different parts of the country. Their lands were scattered, so the nobles wanted to rebel they had no possibility to collect an army of fighting men quickly. No noble was stronger than the king himself. William gathered his nobles in Salisbury and made them swear not to serve anyone except the king. It was the berth of the famous English medieval principle: “The vassal of my vassal is not my vassal” (controversial to continental : “The vassal of my vassal is my vassal”)
William brought from the continent the system of social life which is known as Feudalism. It had some typical features.
- 1 - The land was given to nobles (or knigts) in return for military service to king. It was 40 days a year. Rather often 40 days weren’t enough for a military operation, in this case a king asked his knights to stay and payed them for fighting. Then they were called “paid fighters” or “solidaries” in Latin, this was the origin of the word “soldier”.
- The peasants had to pay the king’s nobles. They were called seniors relating to peasants. Each senior had to protect his peasants.
William took lands from Saxon nobles and gave them to Norman barons in return for service (40 days a year). It was a feudal system taken from the continent. The lands were scattered to do the rebellions impossible.
William came to the country which he didn’t know. But he declared his desire to learn the country, how much land it had and how it was peopled. So he was the first British king who decided to count all the people in the country, as well as their property and land. He sent his people across the country. Each hundred of the peasants had to choose 6, who had to answer the questions of the king’s men. They were asked questions like: "How much land do you have? Who owns it? How many sheep have you got?"
All the answeres were gathered in the book which got the name of "Doomsday Book". Doomsday means the Day of Judgment. People had to answer only truth, as if it were the Day of Judgment, or "doom". That is why they called it the "Doomsday Book".
The "Doomsday Book" is a unique historical source. It was the first economic survey not only in England but in Europe as well. Nowadays it is the most precious historical evidence which allows to imagine how people in Britain lived in the Middle Ages. There were about 2 million people in Britain then, 95 percent lived in rural areas. ¾ were serves. The serf wasn’t free to leave his senior. ¼ were freemen. They owned their lands and didn’t have any seniors above.
William decided to count the people and their property. The "Doomsday Book" was compiled – a unique historical source. There were 2 million people in Britain, 95 percent lived in rural areas, ¾ were serves.
The Newcomers were the French knights and they did not know the Anglo-Saxon. And for a very long time two languages were spoken in the country. Common Saxon people and the few Anglo-Saxon nobles who remained alive spoke Anglo-Saxon. The Normans, who were the rulers of the country, spoke Norman (old French). It was the official language of the court, law and administration. It remained so through 3 centuries, till the XIV. Boys at schools used to get the tusks: to translate the text from Latin into French. English wasn’t the language of education then.
It was the start of “a marriage” between Anglo-Saxon and Old French languages. What is known as English is the result of their interaction. Grammar remained German in its basin, but lexis represents a mixture of Anglo-Saxon and French (Roman) levels. English is considered to be probably the richest language in its synonyms. Children who start learning English usually wonder, why there are as “big”, as “large”, as “little” as “small”. The reason is “the marriage”. Modern English is abounding with the pairs which came from different languages.
For 3 centuries two languages were spoken in the country. The common Anglo-Saxon people spoke Anglo-Saxon. The Norman rulers of the country spoke Norman (old French), the language of law and administration. That’s why English is rich with synonyms
Anglo-Saxon and French derivations in modern lexis
William ruled England 23 years but he died and was buried in Normandy. His remains were scattered during the French revolution, for he was considered the symbol of tyranny. Now only one bone (of hip) lays in the tomb
The Vikings vikja
to raid, to devastate
wealth and glory
Alfred the Great
king of England (897)
to make a treaty
the Danish money
Edward the Confessor
William the Conqueror
the Duke of Normandy
1066 – the battle at Hastings
to put down
to be scattered
"The Doomsday Book"
The Day of Judgment
a serf (serves)