The Norman Conquest of England - William the Conqueror
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The Norman Conquest

Around 1000 AD, some of the Vikings who had been raiding France got permission from the French king to settle down and live in France instead. They were supposed to help protect France against other Vikings (as the Visigoths had done before). As part of the deal, these Vikings also converted from their German gods to Catholicism. These settlers were called the Normans (which is short for North-Men, because they came from the North). The part of France where they lived is called Normandy, the land of the North-Men, even today.

Animated version of the Bayeux tapestry
showing the invasion of England

After a while, though, the children and grandchildren of these Vikings were tired of just living in Normandy and farming, and wanted some adventure and a chance to get rich. In 1066 AD, one of these men, William, decided to attack England and try to conquer it from the Anglo-Saxons. Williams's mother had not been married to his father when he was born, but William still inherited his father's property and his title of Duke of Normandy. People called him William the Bastard (that means that his parents were not married). He wanted to do something big and adventurous, and when the King of England died without leaving a son, William thought he saw a chance to take over England.
(More about William's own marriage to Matilda.)

Harold is killed
"Harold Rex interfectus est" - King Harold is killed (Bayeux Tapestry, 1070s AD)
(Compare to a 1040 Seljuk image of a battle)

William thought if he conquered England he might get rich. A lot of his friends agreed with him. So they sailed across the English Channel in a lot of small boats, and when they got there they did beat the Anglo-Saxons in the Battle of Hastings. The Anglo-Saxon king, Harold, got shot in the eye with an arrow and died.

William (now people called him William the Conqueror) became the new king of England. He was crowned in Westminster Abbey. He built the Tower of London to live in, to keep himself and his family safe. William and all his friends spoke French, but the English people spoke Saxon. So for a long time rich people in England spoke French, and poor people spoke Saxon or English. But the Normans never really settled down to just stay at home. They kept fighting as mercenaries for the Byzantine kings and the Lombards in Italy, and by 1096 they were off in Jerusalem fighting the First Crusade.

Learn by doing: build a castle
More about William the Conqueror

Bibliography and further reading about the Normans:

William the Conqueror
William's castle at Caen
The men's abbey in Caen
The women's abbey in Caen
Tower of London
Medieval Europe home

Copyright 2012-2015 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated September 2015.

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