One of the most influential monarchies in the history of England began in 1066 C.E. with the Norman Conquest led by William, the Duke of Normandy. England would forever be changed politically, economically, and socially as a result.
The conquest was personal to William. He was once promised a higher title, the king of England. But ultimately, before he died in 1066, England’s King Edward chose a different successor, Harold Godwinson, an English nobleman. Feeling betrayed, William gathered an army and made his way to England in hopes of properly taking his place atop the throne, which was becoming more crowded. Not only were Harold and William in a power struggle, but there were other challengers to the throne as well, including Harald III of Norway and Harold Godwinson’s brother, Tostig.
Strategy combined with a critical weather delay resulted in William invading the south of England just days after Harald III. Harald III had unsuccessfully attempted to wrestle the crown away from Harold, perishing in the process. Harold’s troops could not rest and spent the next two weeks marching south to meet William. The Battle of Hastings in October of 1066, an intense and decisive battle in East Sussex that resulted in the death of Harold, made William the only remaining heir to the crown. A subsequent march on London was faced with little challenge and William was crowned on Christmas Day. William’s invasion is considered the last successful conquest of England.
Early on, King William endured a number of invasions, attacks, rebellions, and threats. He survived through a series of military victories and controversial tactics such as his devastating “harrying the north” policy. This policy involved damaging the land in the north to minimize the chances that rebel groups could strengthen and challenge his army. William also introduced new military strategies, which included building many castles across the country as defensive measures.
English culture changed dramatically as well. William replaced the English landowning elite with Norman landowners, resulting in the first steps toward feudalism. William also directly redistributed land to these people, often in return for military service. William ordered that this new system of land ownership be recorded in a comprehensive manuscript, known as the Domesday Book. He also replaced the church elite, which was mainly made up of Anglo-Saxons, with his Norman supporters. Furthermore, the introduction of the French language into elite English circles influenced English vocabulary and composition.
The results of the Norman Conquest linked England to France in the years that followed. In addition to the introduction of French words to the English language, the French influence was also felt in politics, as William and his noblemen retained an interest in the affairs of France and the European continent.