The Consequences of the Norman Conquest

William the Conqueror in the Bayeux Tapestry
William the Conqueror in the Bayeux Tapestry. Wikimedia Commons

William of Normandy’s success in the Norman Conquest of 1066, when he seized the crown from Harold II, used to be credited with bringing in a host of new legal, political and social changes to England, effectively marking 1066 as the start of a new age in English history. Historians now believe the reality is more nuanced, with more inherited from the Anglo-Saxons, and more developed as a reaction to what was happening in England, rather than the Normans simply recreating Normandy in their new land.

Nevertheless, the Norman Conquest still bought many changes. The following is a list of the major effects.

  • Anglo-Saxon elites, the largest landholders in England, were replaced by Franco-Normans. Those Anglo-Saxons nobles who had survived the battles of 1066 had the chance to serve William and retain power and land, but many rebelled over contentious issues, and soon William had turned away from compromise to importing loyal men from the continent. By William’s death, the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy was all but replaced. In the Domesday book of 1086, there are only four large English landowners. However, there may only have been around 25,000 Franco-Normans out of a population of two million when William died. There was not a massive importation of a new Norman population, just the people at the top.
  • Much of the upper reaches of church government was replaced. By 1087, eleven of fifteen bishops were Norman, and only one of the other four was English. The church had power over people and land, and now William had power over them.
  • Castles: Anglo-Saxons did not, in general, build castles, and the Normans started a huge building programme in order to help secure their power. The most common early type was wooden, but stone followed. The castle building habits of the Normans has left a mark on England still visible to the eye (and the tourist industry is thankful for it.)
  • The importance of receiving land from a lord in return for loyalty and service grew enormously under the Normans, who created a system of land tenure unmatched in Europe. Quite how homogenous this system was (probably not very), and whether it can be called feudal (probably not) are still being discussed. Before the conquest, Anglo-Saxons owed an amount of service based on regularised units of land holding; afterward, they owed service based entirely on the settlement they had achieved with their overlord or the king.
  • The idea that a person held two types of land – his ‘patrimony’ / family land which he had inherited, and his extended lands which he had conquered – and the idea that these lands could go to different heirs, came into England with the Normans. Familial relationships, of heirs to parents, changed as a result.
  • The links between Scandinavia and England were deeply severed. Instead, England was brought closer to events in France and this region of the continent, leading to the Angevin Empire and then the Hundred Years War. Before 1066 England had seemed destined to stay in the orbit of Scandinavian, whose conquerors had taken hold of large chunks of the British Isles. After 1066 England looked south.
  • Increased use of writing in government. While the Anglo-Saxons had written some things down, Anglo-Norman government vastly increased it.
  • After 1070, Latin replaced English as the language of government.
  • The power of the earls was reduced after Anglo-Saxon rebellions. Earls now held less land, with correspondingly reduced wealth and influence.
  • Royal forests, with their own laws, were created.
  • Higher taxes: most monarchs are criticised for heavy taxes, and William I was no exception. But he had to raise funds for the occupation and pacification of England.
  • A new court, known as the Lords, honourial or seigniorial, was created. They were held, as the name suggests, by lords for their tenants, and have been called a key part of the “feudal” system.
  • Murdrum fines: if a Norman was killed, and the killer not identified, the entire English community could be fined. That this law was needed perhaps reflects on the problems faced by the Norman raiders.
  • Trial by battle was introduced.
  • There was a large decline in the numbers of free peasants, who were lower class workers who could quit their land in search of new landlords.
  • Far more English land was given to continental monasteries, to hold as ‘alien priories’, then before the Norman Conquest. Indeed, more monasteries were founded in England.
  • Continental architecture was imported en mass. Every major Anglo-Saxon cathedral or abbey, apart from Westminster, was rebuilt bigger and more fashionably. Parish churches were also widely rebuilt in stone.
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Wilde, Robert. "The Consequences of the Norman Conquest." ThoughtCo, Sep. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/consequences-of-the-norman-conquest-1221077. Wilde, Robert. (2017, September 25). The Consequences of the Norman Conquest. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/consequences-of-the-norman-conquest-1221077 Wilde, Robert. "The Consequences of the Norman Conquest." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/consequences-of-the-norman-conquest-1221077 (accessed November 24, 2017).