Saturday 24 June 2017

Norman Conquest of England

William II also known as William the Conqueror became seventh duke of Normandy in 1035, however it was not until 1060 that Normandy was securely under his control. Once it was done, he launched an attack on England six years later in September 1066 CE  decisively defeating and killing Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066.

Ruins of the Hasting Castle, East Sussex

Edward the Confessor was among the last kings Anglo Saxon kings who ruled England. Edward succeeded Cnut the Great's son Harthacnut, restoring the rule of the House of Wessex after the period of Danish rule since Cnut conquered England in 1016. Following Harthacnut's death on 8 June 1042, Godwin, the most powerful of the English earls, supported Edward, who succeeded to the throne. He was crowned at the cathedral of Winchester, the royal seat of the West Saxons, on 3 April 1043.

Winchester Cathedral

Edward's Norman sympathies are most clearly seen in the major building project of his reign, Westminster Abbey, the first Norman Romanesque church in England. This was commenced between 1042 and 1052 as a royal burial church, consecrated on 28 December 1065, completed after his death in about 1090, and demolished in 1245 to make way for Henry III's new building, which still stands.

Westminster Abbey

Edward the Confessor's reign led to the disintegration of royal power in England and the advance in power of the House of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. Until the mid-1050s Edward was able to structure his earldoms so as to prevent the Godwins becoming dominant. Godwin himself died in 1053 and although Harold succeeded to his earldom of Wessex, none of his other brothers were earls at this date. His house was then weaker than it had been since Edward's succession, but a succession of deaths in 1055–57 completely changed the picture.

Golden Wyvern of Wessex

In 1055 Siward of Northumbria died but his son was considered too young to command Northumbria, and Harold's brother, Tostig was appointed. In 1057 Leofric and Ralph died, and Leofric's son Ælfgar succeeded as Earl of Mercia, while Harold's brother Gyrth succeeded as Earl of East Anglia. The fourth surviving Godwin brother, Leofwine, was given an earldom in the south-east carved out of Harold's territory, and Harold received Ralph's territory in compensation. Thus by 1057 the Godwin brothers controlled all of England subordinate apart from Mercia.

St Wystan's Church, Repton

At the end of 1065 King Edward the Confessor fell into a coma without clarifying his preference for the succession. He died on 5 January 1066, but not before briefly regaining consciousness and commending his widow and the kingdom to Harold's "protection". He was crowned on 6th January 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

Harold Godwinson

In early January 1066, hearing of Harold's coronation, Duke William II of Normandy began plans to invade England, building 700 warships and transports at Dives-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast. Initially, William could not get support for the invasion but, as William received the Church's blessing and nobles flocked to his cause.

Coast of Dives-sur-Mer

In anticipation of the invasion, Harold assembled his troops on the Isle of Wight, but the invasion fleet remained in port for almost seven months, perhaps due to unfavourable winds. On 8 September, with provisions running out, Harold disbanded his army and returned to London. On the same day Harald Hardrada of Norway, who also claimed the English crown joined Tostig and invaded, landing his fleet at the mouth of the Tyne.

Harald Hardrada

The invading forces of Hardrada and Tostig defeated the English earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford near York on 20 September 1066. Harold led his army north on a forced march from London, reached Yorkshire in four days, and caught Hardrada by surprise. On 25 September, in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold defeated Hardrada and Tostig, who were both killed.

Battle of Stamford Bridge by Peter Nicolai Arbo

Throughout the summer of 1066, William the Conqueror assembled an army and an invasion fleet in Normandy. The fleet carried an invasion force that included, in addition to troops from William's own territories of Normandy and Maine, large numbers of mercenaries, allies, and volunteers from Brittany, northeastern France, and Flanders, together with smaller numbers from other parts of Europe. Although the army and fleet were ready by early August, adverse winds kept the ships in Normandy until late September. 

William the Conqueror crossed English Channel in September, 1066

After defeating Harald Hardrada, king of Norway and Tostig, Harold Godwinson left much of his army in the north, including earls Morcar and Edwin, and marched the rest south to deal with the threatened Norman invasion of William the Conqueror who had landed perhaps 7,000 men in Sussex, southern England. After landing, William's forces built a wooden castle at Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding area.

Coast of Sussex

The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 between the Norman-French army and the English army, beginning the Norman conquest of England. It took place approximately 7 miles (11 kilometres) northwest of Hastings, close to the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex, and was a decisive Norman victory. Harold Godwinson died during the battle and his death marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule over England starting the rule of the House of Normandy.

Flag and Coat of Arms of House of Normandy

After waiting a short while, William secured Dover, parts of Kent, and Canterbury, while also sending a force to capture Winchester, where the royal treasury was. These captures secured William's rear areas and also his line of retreat to Normandy. William then marched to Southwark, across the Thames from London, which he reached in late November. Next he led his forces around the south and west of London, burning along the way. He finally crossed the Thames at Wallingford in early December and he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

Dover Castle

William remained in England after his coronation and tried to reconcile the native magnates. The remaining earls – Edwin (of Mercia), Morcar (of Northumbria), and Waltheof (of Northampton) – were confirmed in their lands and titles. But the families of Harold and his brothers did lose their lands, as did some others who had fought against William at Hastings. As part of his efforts to secure England, William ordered many castles, keeps, and mottes built – among them the central keep of the Tower of London, the White Tower. 

Tower of London

Battle Abbey was founded by William at the site of the battle. According to 12th-century sources, William made a vow to found the abbey, and the high altar of the church was placed at the site where Harold had died. More likely, the foundation was imposed on William by papal legates in 1070.

Battle Abbey

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