The norman conquest and feudalism




The norman conquest and feudalism


The following texts are the property of their respective authors and we thank them for giving us the opportunity to share for free to students, teachers and users of the Web their texts will used only for illustrative educational and scientific purposes only.



The information of medicine and health contained in the site are of a general nature and purpose which is purely informative and for this reason may not replace in any case, the council of a doctor or a qualified entity legally to the profession.



The norman conquest and feudalism


1066 – The Year of the Norman Conquest


***Reading partially derived from the book 1066 by David Horwath***


England in 1066

            In 1066, life in England was not too bad.  People would mostly live in places with nice farmland, probably near a fresh water river.  There was more than enough farmland.  Most people were able to have enough food and drink.  English people could typically feed themselves.  People would have to trade for salt and iron, but that was about it.  95% of people lived in small villages and on farms.  About 5% lived in major cities, like London or York.  London had about 12,000 to 15,000 people – just a little more than what Colts Neck has today.  The village would probably have a church; very few people could read.

Years before 1066, Vikings and other people from the north would conquer, burn, and slaughter places in England.  Now, under the 24-year leadership of King Edward, peace existed in England.  People would be kind to one another and expect kindness back.  Strangers who travelled to other villages would also sound a horn before the entered, to show that they did not wish to harm anyone.  The village typically shared things and worked on things together.  There was little contact with the people towards the top, like a king or other lords.

            Obviously, the top of this society would be the king.  The king would then divide the land through lords known as “earls”.  Earls would obtain this land (known as an earldom) either through a long family history of wealth and power, or through some kind of connection to the king.  The earl must oversee the location by repairing bridges, running a court, and, most importantly, offer service to the king in case of an invasion.


The Rights of the English Throne:

            As we mentioned before, England had been peaceful at this time.  Still, there was one question troubling the English people.  King Edward, who led for decades, had no heir to the throne.  (He was also known as Edward the Confessor, for his deeply religious beliefs).  Typically, kings would try and have a male heir to the throne.  One he could train for leadership.  However, with the lack of an heir, the people of England started to fear the conflict that would take place when the king died.  The king would, in fact, die on January 4 of this year.

            When Edward died, a group of English leaders called the witan got together.  Since England had no official Constitution to offer rights to people, there was no “Congress” or “Parliament.”  There was only the witan – a group of English leaders to help advise the king and make sure there is a smooth transition from one leader to another.  The witan would consist of bishops, earls, and other high-ranking officials in England.  They were all English.  Needless to say, the common person did not have the right to influence the law.

            When the witan got together, they knew that their job of selecting a king would be difficult.  Usually, this would be an easy and somewhat mundane task.  After all, most of the kings had a well-trained son to pass the throne down to.  After that, there were a few ways that the witan could go – and some of which were options that did not please the English.  Since other kings, (King of Denmark, King of Norway, and William, the Duke of Normandy) had royal blood and some family connection to England, they could clearly put a claim in for the throne.  After all, if the throne were to be passed down hereditarily, those with royal blood and family connections would be candidates. 

The witan would often decide on four rules for the king.  They looked for someone who:

  • Was a man of proper character
  • Had royal blood
  • Was English
  • Was an heir to the throne (through family connections); preferably someone who the dead king wished


If these could not be met, the witan would also look at someone who could defend England by force; after all, why have a king if he is weak?  The other countries would simply run you over.

            The witan determined that a man named Harold should be king.  Harold was the brother-in-law of Edward.  He was a close advisor and, according to some, the person who Edward entrusted his kingdom as he was on his death bed.  People said he actually ran England for years while the king was ailing.  Harold’s only enemy was his brother, Tostig, who nobody liked.  Harold would soon find enemies with other nations, especially since they felt they had the right to the throne.


War with England

            Within days, everyone knew about the king’s death and Harold’s ascension to the throne.  However, when this news reached Norway and Normandy, the leaders there felt that they had much more right to be king of England than Harold!  After all, Edward did not leave an heir.  Since blood connections and oaths were the next most important thing, King Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy (northern France) would both attack England with their armies and force the throne to be handed over to them!

            In northern England, Hardrada, of Viking ancestry, believed that he should get the throne because it was allegedly promised to him by the king before Edward.  Since Edward had no heir, he believed it was his.  As he thought about conquering England, Tostig, the brother of Harold, went to Hardrada and discussed taking over his brother.  Hardrada, being a Viking, could not wait to conquer someone!  He prepared his ships for battle.

            William of Normandy had a much better case.  William was a distant cousin of Edward, which established a blood relationship.  In addition, he believed that in a meeting with Edward years ago, he was promised the throne.  However, the most significant issue would be a rumored event from 1064 – two years ago.  It was rumored that Harold was sent by Edward to confirm the fact that William would be the new leader should he die.  Harold went across the English Channel and was shipwrecked and imprisoned.  William released him from prison and confirmed that Harold offered the throne.

            So when Harold was given the throne of England – William saw this as not only an issue with the throne, but also an issue with Harold violating his oath!  William asked the Pope to permit him to attack Harold since he violated his oath.  The Pope granted this and excommunicated Harold.  William was now approved for a just war, so he prepared his fleet to attack England.


Battle of Hastings

            Harold now had to defend England against two attacks – a northern Norwegian Viking one from the north and the Norman one from the south.  The Viking one landed first.  Harold’s men wasted little time conquering the Vikings and sent them back to Norway quickly.

            The Norman invasion would come next.  They landed on the southern part of England and prepared for Battle at Hastings.  This time, the Normans would be too much.  In October of 1066, Harold and many nobles from England would die at the hands of William and the Normans.  William would be granted the throne on Christmas Day, 1066.  This year is one of only two years where England would have three kings.  William would be one of only three English kings to die in battle.


Norman Influence

            William originally thought that the English people would accept his leadership– after all, in William’s mind Edward had confirmed through Harold’s boat trip that the English would accept him.  Still, it took years for the English to fully accept the Norman leader.

            However, the Norman influence would change England forever.  Remember, the Vikings had traditionally been a significant influence on the English – these conquerors were hardly good role models.

            William brought in a better, more organized model of feudalism.  This would allow England to develop into a stronger nation than it was before.  Knighthood and service to the king were instituted – once again, making England stronger.  William also brought over the Norman language, which was based on Latin roots more than the English.  William also compiled a census-type book called the Domesday Book to make sure all landholdings were organized.  Writing and education were more valued.  The wealthy built castles and cathedrals.  He also expanded the leadership in the witan, which would help inform and lead the king.  While it took a few years to develop, the influence of the Normans helped England become the strong country it has been over the past 1000 years!



1066 – Candidates for the Throne

On January 4, 1066, King Edward of England died.  Although there was peace for many years, the lack of a son from Edward caused a significant amount of conflict this year.  Without an heir, the witan, the king’s advisors, would determine the candidate.  Which candidate should get the throne?



Harold, King’s Brother-in-Law

  • English
  • Brother-in-Law of King Edward (his sister was wife of King Edward)
  • Well-liked
  • Not born of royal blood
  • Had only one true enemy, his brother Tostig
  • On King Edward’s deathbed, he allegedly left control to Harold
  • As an advisor, ran the country while Edward was sick and dying

Source :

Web site link:

Google key word : The norman conquest and feudalism file type : doc

Author : not indicated on the source document of the above text

If you are the author of the text above and you not agree to share your knowledge for teaching, research, scholarship (for fair use as indicated in the United States copyrigh low) please send us an e-mail and we will remove your text quickly.


The norman conquest and feudalism


How far did England become a feudal state during the reign of William I?


Perhaps the greatest legacy that the Normans are seen to have left is the feudal system, with Norman knights and barons replacing the English earls and thegns. The situation is not however quite so simple- in some parts of England Feudalism was slow to take hold, and in certain cases it could in fact be argued that England had become a feudal state before the reign of William.


The evidence from the Domesday Book would certainly support the idea that England had become a feudal state during the reign of William I, with the earls, thegns and housecarls that had survived the events of 1066 forced out by new types of succession where there was no absolute right of inheritance to fiefs. According to Domesday, by 1086, 20 prominent lords and 12 prelates such as Odo of Bayeux and the Count of Mortain holding 40% of the land. This idea of the majority of land being held by a small number of Norman invaders, rather than the native English populations would certainly suggest that England had become a feudal state, as shown by the fact that most of the English had been dispossessed of their lands. To reinforce this point further, by the time of the Domesday Book, King William held 20% of the English land, a far cry from the reign of Edward the Confessor, where he held virtually nothing.


Whilst it is evident that William did make England more feudal, it is important to remember that in certain parts of the country, most notably the more remote regions of the north and the west remained outside of the feudal system. Although these were in the minority, one way in which it could be argued England did not become fully feudal was the continued existence of the fyrd, who William used to deal with both the Exeter and Northern Risings. This was significant, as in the feudal system it was the knights who were supposed to deal with rebellion- the fyrd stemmed from the pre conquest days where all freemen were obliged to give military service to the king. Again however this argument does not really hold weight, as although William did utilise the fyrd twice, this was only when his own knights were too stretched. The fact that the fyrd were not used again in his reign after the 1070 Northern Revolt would again seem to prove that despite using traditional Saxon practises when it suited them, William had made England an increasingly feudal state.


A strong case can however be made to suggest that some form of feudalism existed in Anglo Saxon England, questioning  the extent to which the Normans fully imposed feudalism upon England. This was most obvious amongst the lower echelons of society amongst the peasant class, commonly referred to as the villains. Both the cottars and the Boors (members of the villain class) were not freemen. Boors had to work 2-3 days per week for the lord, and Cottars had to work for him three days a week during harvest time. Furthermore, neither was able to leave their land without permission of the lord, and they had to pay both a tax to the lord (the merchet) when their daughter married, as well as when they inherited land (the heriot). In mind of this, it is clear that the Normans did not fully impose feudalism upon England, as feudalism in the conventional sense certainly existed at the bottom of English society, with the villains tied to their lords. It is however clear that amongst the higher echelons of society, feudalism did not exist before the Norman conquest, as demonstrated by both the thegns and the Earls. Under feudalism, the Barons (who played a similar role to the pre conquest Earls) only received land in return for providing the king with soldiers for military service. They did not own this land, and refusal to provide this service would see them forfit it as shown by William de Breteuil in 1075. Furthermore, all major tenants had to swear an oath of loyalty to William as shown at the 1086 Salisbury Oath, where William gathered all of his major Barons from throughout the country.  In contrast, under Edward the Confessor the Earls owed no such obligation, as shown in 1052 where the Northern Earls refused to help Edward following the return of the Godwins from exile. Similarly, whilst in the feudal system knights had no lands of their own and were merely tenants, the thegns (the knights’ equivalent under the Saxons) held bookland, which was theirs to be sold or given away. It is therefore clear that the Normans did impose a system of feudalism on the thegns and earls of Saxon England, but not upon the villains, as for them a system of feudalism was already in place.


Although feudalism had existed amongst the peasantry before William’s reign, it is indisputable that William’s reign saw the transition from a semi-feudal to an almost entirely feudal state. Whilst the small number of urban dwellers (less than 10%  of the population) were not absorbed into the feudal structure, by the end of his reign both the earls and the thegns had been removed, with their replacements, the Barons and the knights only holding land as tenants of the king, testimony to the extent to which England had become a feudal state under William.



Source :

Web site link:

Google key word : The norman conquest and feudalism file type : doc

Author : not indicated on the source document of the above text

If you are the author of the text above and you not agree to share your knowledge for teaching, research, scholarship (for fair use as indicated in the United States copyrigh low) please send us an e-mail and we will remove your text quickly.


The norman conquest and feudalism



If you want to quickly find the pages about a particular topic as The norman conquest and feudalism use the following search engine:



The norman conquest and feudalism


Please visit our home page Terms of service and privacy page




The norman conquest and feudalism