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The Norman Invasion - the Key Players

There were three key players involved in bringing about the Norman Invasion, and Britain's subsequent conquest. Both the Anglo-Saxon Harold and William, Duke of Normandy, thought that they had a legitimate right to the English throne, once the then king, Edward the Confessor, had died.

William was a cousin of Edward the Confessor, and, in his mid-twenties, William visited England, and was promised the crown by Edward. It was a peculiar action on the monarch's part, as it was a council who decided who should rule England, and not just the current king. With William a French duke, it would have been unlikely that the council would have chosen him to be England's next ruler.

Fate on William's Side

Fate seemed to strengthen William's hand, when Harold's ship was wrecked off the coast of France, and he fell into William's clutches. William treated Harold well, but he exploited Harold's situation, as he knew that the English wanted Harold as king rather than William. So, William provoked a promise from Harold to leave the path clear for William to rule England. Harold had no alternative, as he would have been kept as a prisoner otherwise.

Harold knew that he had only promised to let William be king because of his perilous situation, so when Edward the Confessor died early in 1066, Harold went to London's Westminster Abbey to be crowned King of England. William, however, was still determined that the crown would be his.

William, ever cunning, knew that Harold and his brother Tostig were not on good terms. William used this feud to his advantage. He decided to invade England, and to stretch Harold's army, with Tostig taking on Harold's men in the North of England, while William invaded the relatively unprotected South.

The Norman Invasion

Things did not go smoothly for William at first, as many of his invasion ships were wrecked in harbour by storms. When Halley's comet appeared, William and his men saw it as a good omen, and hundreds of ships were sent to England. Harold had expected a response from William, but was busy defeating Tostig in the North, as well as the King of Norway's army, who had come to Tostig's aid. This battle was at Stamford Bridge, near York

Two hundred miles south, the Normans had landed in Pevensey on the Sussex coast, and here William displayed his ruthless streak. All the ships his men had come in, were deliberately damaged to such an extent that his army had a choice to either live or die on English soil. The Normans were rested, and fresh, and with Harold's army light in the South, the Norman Invasion was met with little resistance.

After travelling two hundred miles, Harold's army saw William's in the distance, and positioned themselves on a hill near Hastings in Sussex. Remarkably, after their long journey, the English seemed to be winning the battle, but the Normans were feigning defeat, and leading the English into a trap. Many of Harold's men charged down the hill towards the Normans, but WIlliam's horsemen cut them down. Harold and his remaining men had stayed on the hill, realizing that a trap had been set, but it was too late. Isolated, William's archers rained arrows down on the English survivors, and, legend has it, Harold was fatally injured by an arrow in the eye. This was depicted in the celebrated Bayeux Tapestry.

The Battle of Hastings on October 14th saw England change forever. William soon went to London to become England's new king, and on Christmas Day he was crowned. The Norman Conquest was now complete, and William would become famous in history books as William the Conqueror.

William's Legacy

William's legacy included the Domesday Book that recorded everything the people of England owned, magnificent Norman cathedrals and castles. He was also responsible for the building of the Tower of London. William was self-indulgent and ruthless, and created the New Forest in Hampshire specifically to hunt. This forest was created by pulling down people's homes. He viciously put down rebellion in the North, and laid waste to a great area between the Humber and the Tees rivers as a punishment. William's barons are often described in history as cruel and money-grabbing, and from those barons came the roots of the English upper classes.

- Paul Rance,

Anglo-Norman England, 1066-1166 (History of Medieval Britain)
~Marjorie Chibnall
Blackwell Publishers
Paperback - May 1987
Anglo-Norman Castles
~Robert Liddiard (Editor)
The Boydell Press
Hardcover - November 21, 2002
The History of the Normans
~Amatus of Monte Cassino, et al
The Boydell Press
Hardcover - October 14, 2004

BOOKS ABOUT THE NORMANS available from - in association with

Product photo 1066: The Year of the Conquest
David Howarth
Product photo England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225 (New Oxford History of England)
Robert Bartlett
Product photo The Domesday Book
Elizabeth Hallam

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