Norman Conquest 1066

The Norman Conquest of 1066 was a pivotal event in English history. It marked the beginning of Norman rule in England and had a lasting impact on the country’s language, culture, and governance. The conquest led to the establishment of a new ruling class and the introduction of Norman French as the language of the elite. It also brought about significant changes in the legal and feudal systems. Overall, the Norman Conquest reshaped England and set the stage for future developments in the nation’s history.

The Norman conquest of 1066 ended the Anglo-Saxon rule of England and installed a new king. The stage was set for the invasion when King Edward the Confessor died on January 5, 1066. He did not have any children so he had no heirs to take his place on the English throne.

Norman Conquest 1066 Facts for Kids

  • The Norman Conquest started in 1066.
  • Normans were from France, led by William.
  • William became “William the Conqueror”.
  • He fought King Harold II at Hastings.
  • The battle was on October 14, 1066.
  • Harold was killed, perhaps by an arrow.
  • William became the King of England.
  • This brought many French words to English.
  • Castles like the Tower of London were built.
  • The conquest ended in 1072.

William the Conqueror

In 1066, William, the Duke of Normandy, embarked on a significant expedition known as the Norman Conquest. Motivated by his claim to the English throne, William led his Norman forces into the monumental Battle of Hastings against England’s King Harold II. Victorious and heralded as “William the Conqueror,” he became king, fundamentally transforming England. His reign introduced French influences in language, culture, and architecture, including iconic structures like the Tower of London. This significant period reshaped England’s identity and laid the foundations for its future.

Anglo-Saxon England

Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, England was a realm dominated by the Anglo-Saxons. This situation changed dramatically when William the Conqueror, a Norman from France, won the Battle of Hastings and claimed the English throne. The Norman victory brought an end to Anglo-Saxon rule and significantly altered the country’s socio-political fabric. The Normans introduced feudalism, built castles for control, and replaced the Old English language with Norman French, leaving an indelible imprint on Anglo-Saxon England.

Feudal System

The Norman Conquest in 1066 had profound impacts on England, one of the most significant being the introduction of the feudal system. Before William the Conqueror’s rule, the land was often owned communally in Anglo-Saxon England. After his victory, William implemented a hierarchical structure where he, as king, owned all the land. He granted estates to his loyal Norman nobles, who in turn provided military service and resources. This system, known as feudalism, redefined land ownership and social structure in England, with effects lasting for centuries.

Domesday Book

The Norman Conquest in 1066 led to the creation of a pivotal document known as the Domesday Book. Commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1085, this comprehensive survey was an assessment of landholdings and resources in England to determine taxes. The Domesday Book offered a detailed snapshot of society following the conquest, reflecting the shift from Anglo-Saxon land ownership to the Norman feudal system. It remains a crucial source for understanding the impact of the Norman Conquest on English society.

Viking Invasions

Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, England had a long history of Viking invasions. The Vikings, a seafaring people from Scandinavia, had frequently raided and settled parts of England since the 8th century. Ironically, William the Conqueror, the man behind the Norman Conquest, was a descendant of Viking settlers in Normandy. The Norman invasion and subsequent victory in the Battle of Hastings ended not only Anglo-Saxon rule, but also the era of Viking influence over England, ushering in a new period of Norman dominance

Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is a significant artifact that offers a unique perspective on the Norman Conquest of 1066. This remarkable embroidery, likely commissioned by Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother, vividly illustrates the events leading up to the conquest and the Battle of Hastings. It provides valuable insights into the weaponry, tactics, and personalities of the period. Serving as a pictorial narrative, the tapestry is a priceless historical record that allows us to understand and appreciate the complexities of the Norman Conquest.

King Harold II

King Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, played a crucial role in the events of the Norman Conquest in 1066. After ascending the throne earlier that year, Harold faced invasions from both the Norwegians and the Normans. He initially triumphed over the Norwegian king at the Battle of Stamford Bridge but was later defeated by William, Duke of Normandy, at the Battle of Hastings. Harold’s death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in England and the beginning of the Norman era.

Norman Architecture

The Norman Conquest in 1066 introduced a new architectural style to England known as Norman, or Romanesque, architecture. William the Conqueror and his successors built impressive stone structures, including castles, abbeys, and cathedrals, which were larger and more complex than their Anglo-Saxon predecessors. These buildings, such as the Tower of London and Durham Cathedral, are characterized by their rounded arches, massive walls, and sturdy pillars. This architectural shift transformed the English landscape and has left a lasting legacy on the country’s built heritage.

Plantagenet Dynasty

The Plantagenet dynasty, which ruled England from the 12th to the 15th centuries, had its roots in the Norman Conquest of 1066. The first Plantagenet king, Henry II, was a direct descendant of William the Conqueror through his mother, Empress Matilda. This dynasty’s rule built upon the social and political changes initiated by the Normans, particularly in terms of law and governance. The Plantagenets’ power and influence, directly linked to their Norman ancestry, shaped the English monarchy and society for centuries to come.

Duke William

Duke William of Normandy was an important figure in the Norman Conquest of 1066. He was born in 1028 and was the illegitimate son of Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy. William was a shrewd military leader who gained control of Normandy in 1035. His claim to the English throne was strengthened when King Edward the Confessor of England, who had no immediate heir, declared William as his successor. He gathered an army and navy and invaded England on October 14th, 1066. His victory at the Battle of Hastings gave him control of England and he was crowned King William I of England on Christmas Day of 1066. He is remembered for his successful invasion of England, which changed the course of English history.

William Enfeoffed

William Enfeoffed was a Norman nobleman who was instrumental in the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. He was a loyal supporter of William the Conqueror and was rewarded with vast amounts of land in England. His lands in England included the counties of Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Hertfordshire. He was also given the title of Earl of Essex and was given the responsibility of governing these counties. His loyalty to William the Conqueror was further rewarded by the granting of several manors in the counties of Kent and Surrey. He is remembered for his crucial role in the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 and his legacy lives on in the counties he was granted.

King Harold

King Harold II, the final Anglo-Saxon king of England, is a pivotal figure in the narrative of the Norman Conquest of 1066. Taking the throne in January of that year, Harold’s reign was abruptly interrupted by William, Duke of Normandy, who contested Harold’s claim. Their clash at the Battle of Hastings resulted in Harold’s death, a moment famously depicted with an arrow in his eye. His death marked the end of the Anglo-Saxon rule and ushered in a new era under Norman’s leadership.

English Rebels

In the aftermath of the Norman Conquest in 1066, William the Conqueror faced significant opposition from English rebels. These groups, largely composed of Anglo-Saxon nobles and thegns, staged numerous uprisings across the country, resisting the imposition of Norman rule. In response, William implemented the ‘Harrying of the North’ – a brutal campaign to suppress these rebellions. Despite the resistance, the Normans managed to establish their dominance, fundamentally changing the socio-political landscape of England for centuries to come.

Norman Forces

The Norman forces played a pivotal role in the Norman Conquest of 1066. Led by William, Duke of Normandy, they consisted of trained knights and soldiers from Normandy and other French regions. These forces successfully invaded England, defeating King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. The victory was due in part to the Normans’ superior military strategy and use of cavalry, which was unusual in England at that time. The Norman forces’ success led to the establishment of Norman rule in England, significantly impacting its history.

English Control

The Norman Conquest of 1066 dramatically shifted control over England. Prior to this, Anglo-Saxon nobility held power, but the Battle of Hastings led to their downfall. Upon his victory, William the Conqueror established a centralized system of power, distributing lands to his Norman followers and imposing new laws and customs. His strategic use of castles helped maintain control over the English populace. The Conquest thus marked a significant transition from Anglo-Saxon to Norman dominance, significantly impacting England’s political, social, and cultural fabric.

English Women

The Norman Conquest in 1066 had significant repercussions on English women. The social and legal status of women changed under Norman rule, with aristocratic Anglo-Saxon women often being married off to Norman nobles as part of the strategy to secure control. The Conquest also impacted laws related to marriage, property rights, and inheritance. Despite these changes, some women, like the Anglo-Saxon noblewoman Edith of Wessex, managed to maintain a position of influence during this turbulent time, highlighting the resilience and adaptability of women in this period.

English Abbots

Under William the Conqueror, monastic reform became a priority. Many English abbots were replaced by Normans as part of an effort to align the English Church more closely with the Continent. This was both a religious and a political move, as abbeys were substantial landowners. The influence of Norman abbots often extended into secular matters, making them important figures in local governance. Consequently, the Conquest transformed not just the leadership, but the entire fabric of the English Church.

English Landowner

The Norman Conquest of 1066 had a profound impact on English landowners. Post-conquest, William the Conqueror declared all land his and redistributed them to Norman nobles as a reward for their loyalty. This transition implemented the feudal system in England, dramatically shifting land ownership away from the English nobility. The new Norman lords were required to provide military service in return for their lands. This transformation resulted in a decline in status for many Anglo-Saxon landowners and fundamentally altered the social structure of English society.

Norman Conquest 1066


Edward the Confessor

Edward was the son of Aethelred the Unready, the king of England, and Emma of Normandy. Emma’s father was Richard I, the Duke of Normandy.

In 1013, the Vikings invaded England and took control of the English throne. Aethelred and his family fled to Normandy but returned a year later, after the death of the Norse king Sweyn. Sweyn’s men swore allegiance to Sweyn’s son Cnut but English nobles made a deal to support Aethelred in his bid to become king again. The fight between Cnut and Aethelred continued until Aethelred died in 1016. Once Aethelred died, the Danes once again gained the throne.

Edward and his family once again left and spent the next thirty years in Normandy protected by Richard II, Duke of Normandy, who was Emma’s brother. After Aethelred’s death, Emma married Cnut and became queen of England. She had a son with Cnut by the name of Harthacnut. Harthacnut became king when his father died and in 1042, Edward became the king of England when Harthacnut died.

Three Potential Kings

Edward died on January 5, 1066 and since he had no heirs, three potential kings battled for the throne. The three men were Harold Godwinson, Harald Hardrada, and William of Normandy.

William of Normandy

William was the illegitimate son of Robert, Duke Richard II of Normandy’s son. Richard II was the person who protected Edward while he was hiding in Normandy. William came to power in Normandy after his father, Robert, died. Through a number of battles, William came to be the dominant force in Normandy.

In 1051, William travelled to England and visited Edward. Although there is a fair amount of doubt about the claim, William claimed that during this visit, Edward had made William his heir. William had to return to Normandy shortly after this visit to deal with some rivals who had teamed up to fight against William’s increasingly powerful position. William was able to hold off this group and was even able to make his position stronger.

Harold Godwinson

Harold Godwinson came from a rich and powerful family. He had a brother named Tostig whom Harold had helped to become the earl of Northumbria. Harold went to Normandy in 1064 (no one really knows why he decided to do this) and while there, he was captured by Count Guy of Ponthieu and handed over to William of Normandy. While in William’s custody, Harold swore an oath of fealty to William although there is a lot of confusion around this oath. People are not sure where the oath took place, when it took place or even why it took place.

Harold still hoped to gain the English crown and in 1065, he betrayed his brother Tostig in order to gain support for this goal. Tostig ruled Northumbria and as a result of his harsh rule, the people rebelled. Tostig asked his brother and Edward for help but none came. In fact, Harold reached out to Leofric, who had been the Earl of Mercer until his grandson took over the title. Leofric’s family was just as powerful as Harold’s family. Leofric had two grandsons: Edwin and Morcar. Edwin was the grandson who had taken over the title Earl of Mercia from his grandfather but the second grandson, Morcar, did not have any titles. Harold agreed to support Morcar against his brother in Northumbria in return for Leofric’s support for Harold becoming king when Edward eventually died.

Harald Hardrada

Harald Hardrada was the king of Norway. Hardrada was a co-ruler of Norway and he shared power with his nephew Mangus until Mangus died in 1047. Hardrada claimed the English throne on the basis of an agreement that was made between Mangus and the then-English king, Harthacnut. Neither Mangus nor Harthacnut had an heir so they agreed that when one of them died, that person’s kingdom would go to the other person. When Harthacnut died, Mangus was too busy fighting over Denmark to assert his claim to the English throne. Hardrada claimed that since he was Mangus’s heir, he was the rightful king of England.

The Invasion

The day after the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson was elected the new king. On his deathbed, Edward had actually named Harold his heir, but both Harald Hardrada and William of Normandy refused to recognize Harold as the new king.

Tostig, the brother that Harold had betrayed, reached out to Hardrada and offered his support for Hardrada’s invasion. Hardrada and Tostig landed more than 10,000 men in the north of England on September 20, 1066.

Upon hearing of the invasion, Harold gathered what forces he could and began marching toward Tostig and Hardrada. Harold continued to gather men as he marched and within four days, his forces traveled almost three hundred kilometers.

Harold tried to get Tostig to abandon Hardrada by offering the return of the earldom that Harold had helped Tostig lose in the first place. Tostig refused the offer. The battle took place at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. Hardrada’s forces held the bridge but eventually Harold’s forces were able to overwhelm Hardrada’s forces once they took the bridge. Both Hardrada and Tostig were killed and Harold won the battle, but his army was tired, wounded, and a long way from where William of Normandy was about to attack.

William had built an invasion fleet quickly but had to wait for favorable winds before he could sail to England. On September 27, 1066, the winds allowed William to sail across the channel. William’s fleet landed in England on September 28 and his troops quickly fortified their position and raided the countryside.

Battle of Hastings

Harold, upon hearing of William’s landing, gathered his forces and began the long march south. It took Harold two weeks for his forces to reach the area around Hastings and by this time they were exhausted.

On October 14, 1066, Harold positioned his men at the top of a hill (which became known as Battle Hill) and formed a shield wall. His forces were much too tired and Harold needed to take a defensive position.

In the morning of the 14th, William’s forces charged up the hill attempting to engage Harold’s forces but they were repeatedly thrown back. After two hours of fighting, a rumor circulated that William had been killed. Some of the Norman soldiers began to flee until William removed his helmet and shouted that he was alive.

How the actual battle was won is still open for debate. One theory is that the Normans tricked the Saxons into believing they were retreating. When the inexperienced Saxons, believing the Normans had been routed, chased after the Normans, William’s forces turned and attacked. The Saxons had given up the advantage of the hilltop and William’s professional (and well-rested) army quickly routed the Saxons.

The other theory is that William had gained territory on the west side of the hill which allowed him to attack on two fronts. William then used his archers and cavalry to break down the Saxon shield wall and win the battle.

During the battle, Harold was killed. Although no one is completely sure how he was killed, there is evidence from the Bayeux tapestry that he may have been shot with an arrow through the eye.

Now that all of the other rivals for the English throne were dead, William set about securing the throne. He captured London in November of 1066 and he continued to fight any forces that were against him. By December, the English nobles began to submit to William’s rule, and on December 25, 1066, William was crowned the new king of England.

The Harrying of the North

Between the years 1069 to 1070, William brutally put down any remaining dissent to his rule in northern England. The biggest rebellion was led by Edgar the Atheling, who was related to Edward the Confessor. In an effort to subdue the rebellion, William destroyed villages and crops and sent his troops out in small bands to loot and pillage. As a result, a large number of people starved to death and there were even reports of people resorting to cannibalism (eating people).

Once William had subdued the population, he replaced all the Anglo-Saxon leaders with Norman leaders which helped secure his rule. William no longer faced any serious threat to his hold on the throne and he was even able to head back to France to fight against a rebellion by his son in Normandy. William died in Normandy in 1087.