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1066-1154 - Norman Kings

On the death of the last of the Danish, king in 1042, the Saxon line of Ethelred was restored in the person of his son Edward, known as Edward the Confessor, or St. Edward. The principal importance of Edward the Confessor's reign was that it served as an introduction to the Norman conquest of England. Edward had been brought up from his childhood in Normandy. When he became king of England, he brought with him a large number of Normans, whom he placed in the chief positions in church and state. This led to a reaction on the part of an English party headed by the chief noble of the land, Godwin, earl of Wessex. After a civil struggle the Normans were expelled and Edward came completely under the control of Godwin's son, Harold. As Edward had no son to succeed him, he recognized Harold as his heir, and the national council, the Witenagemol, confirmed this by electing Harold as king, on Edward,s death in 1066.

William, duke of Normandy, had hoped to secure the succession for himself. He now put forward a claim to the throne, alleging that Edward had designated him as his successor. In the fall of 1066 he sailed across the channel with an army of Normans and other French adventurers and landed in England at Pevensey Bay. William, Duke of Normandy in France, invaded England, at the head of sixty thousand men, and landed at Pevensey Bay, in 1066.

Harold Son of Godwin , who had been Hastings occupied with a revolt in the north, hurried south to meet him. The great English earls, however, jealous perhaps of Harold's new title of king, failed to support him, and in the battle of Hastings, Harold was defeated and slain. In the midst of the battle an arrow was shot through hia steel helmet, and penetrated his brain. The Duke of Normandy gained the victory. The national council, which had been hastily summoned by Harold, now submitted to the victor and recognized him as king. On Christmas day, 1066, William "the Conqueror" was crowned king of England. This ended the Anglo-Saxon period. William the Conquerer (as the Duke of Normandy was now called) reigned about twenty years.

William occupied a much stronger position in relation to the feudal lords than did the contemporary king of France. The Norman lords in England received their lands in scattered portions, as one district after another was conquered and the lands confiscated and given out. Thus they were great and powerful landlords, but they were not semi-independent princes of distinct provinces, as were the French dukes and counts.

Moreover, William was determined to be the personal ruler of all of the landed and military nobility, and not merely the overlord of the great lords. In 1086 he held a review of the military forces of the kingdom and compelled every holder of land by military tenure, whether he we a direct vassal of the king or the vassal of one of the great lords, to take an oath of allegiance to the king and swear fidelity to him before any other. This broke through the mediate or indirect character of the feudal bond, which was its weakest feature from the point of view of the monarchy. William also made it a rule that no noble could build a castle on his lands without authorization from the king.

William regarded himself as the successor of the old English kings and the heir to whatever national powers they had possessed. These powers he revived and strengthened, where they had, under the weaker rule of Edward the Confessor, fallen into disuse. He had a survey made of the landed wealth of the kingdom, and made this the basis for a stricter enforcement of the land-tax.

William the conqueror introduced the feudal system in England, with some important modifications. He established, as an universal rule throughout the country, that he himself was the supreme lord of all the land. The feudal supremacy of the crown was solemnly acknowledged at tho great assembly which William convened at Salisbury in 1086, where every holder of land in the kingdom took the oath of fealty, and did homage to the king as his liege lord.

William limited the territorial jurisdiction of the barons by maintaining the supreme authority of his own royal tribunal, and by retaining the Saxon popular tribunals of the county court and the court of the hundred. William also took care not to give compact little principalities to his barons, but gave them lands scattered over different parts of the kingdom, which could never form independent states. He also retained immense wealth to the crown, which owned nearly 1500 manors, and almost all the cities and towns of any note, as the royal share of the spoils of the conquest.

The barons were bound to do homage and swear fealty to the king, and to atteud him in war for forty days each year with armed followers. They were also liable to pay the feudal aids, which were to bo levied for ransoming the king, for knighting his eldest son, and for marrying once his eldest daughter. They were also bound to certain payments called reliefs on succeeding to the estate, to give the guardianship of their heirs to the king, who took possession of the land daring their minority, and could select a wife or husband to his ward. If the baron died without heirs, the land reverted to the crown by right of escheat. The land also lapsed to the lord by forfeiture, whenever the tenant committed any of a numerous list of crimes or acts of feudal misconduct.

He was succeeded by his second son, William Rufus, or the Red, who was so named from the color of his hair. The red king was very fond of hunting. One day, while he was chasing a deer in the forest, a gentleman of the name of Walter Tyrrel let fly an arrow. It glanced against a tree and hit the king on the breast, so that he fell from his horse and died. This took place in the year 1100, and William Rufus was succeeded by his brother Henry. This king was called Beauclerk, or Excellent Scholar, because he was able to write his name. Kings were not expected to have much learning in those days. On the death of King Henry Beauclerk, in 1135, the throne was usurped by Stephen of Blois. But he died in 1154, and was succeeded by Henry the Second, who was son to the former Henry.

The Norman conquest proved to be a turning-point in English history. This was true especially in regard to the development of government. The political institutions of England were produced by the combination of the Old English or Anglo-Saxon elements with Norman elements brought in by the conquest.

One thing that distinguished England in the eleventh century from the countries on the continent was the existence of local institutions of self-government. The shire and the hundred-court were derived from the popular local assemblies of tribal times, in which the freemen themselves, under elected officials, administered justice according to the tribal law and managed local affairs. By the tenth century these assemblies had become more aristocratic, and their principal members were the local landlords; the ordinary freemen, however, were still represented in the assemblies and their cases were tried there by common law, although to a large extent they were subject also to the manorial justice of their own landlords. The survival of these courts is in marked contrast to the situation on the continent, where manorial and feudal justice had so completely usurped the field as to cause the older popular courts to disappear entirely.

The authority of the king was exercised through a national government. At the centre was the king and his court, and a national council; throughout the country the king was represented in the shires by the royal agents, the sheriffs. The king and the council legislated for the whole country.

The English constituted only one of several elements in the British isles. In addition, there were the descendants of the older British inhabitants, many of whom continued to live a separate life in the west of Britain and developed into the Welsh. In Ireland and Scotland were numerous independent clans, mostly of Celtic blood like the Britons, but who had never come under Roman influence. During the Anglo- Saxon period, occasionally a strong English king had been able to assert an overlordship over some of the Welsh and Scottish princes; this was to be carried much farther after the Norman conquest, and eventually English influence and English rule, became dominant in the whole of the British isles.

In a political way the most obvious effect of the Norman conquest was the introduction into England of the feudal system, although the essential elements were to some extent already developed there. For several years after the battle of Hastings William the Conqueror was Systemeudal occupied in putting down local revolts of the English lords; the crushing of these revolts was the real conquest of England. This gave him an opportunity to confiscate the lands of the English nobility and confer them upon his Norman followers; in the space of a few years the great estates almost completely changed hands and became the fiefs of Norman lords.

So the Norman conquest is seen to be the beginning of a new life in every way for the English nation. The period of nearly a century, from the conquest to the accession of Henry II in 1154, is known as the "Norman period," since it is the time in which the Norman rule was established and men of the Norman race controlled virtually everything.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:47:21 ZULU