After 1066 William the Conqueror set about ruling his new kingdom. The impression we get is that England rolls over rather easily – where was the heroic struggle we might have expected? This isn't the full story; the Conqueror spent the first years stamping out forest fires all over the place. But there is some truth in it – English resistance lacked the leadership it needed to be effective. We find out what happened in the History of England podcast.
Why did England fall to William so easily?
Well, a few reasons really.
- There were no credible leaders
- The leaders they did have were self serving and not much to write home about
- The Normans built castles – lots of them
- The cream of England's warriors had been decimated by the 3 battles of 1066
- Some of them thought they could work with William. Ha.
The new Aristocracy
By the end of William's reign 54% of the Aristocracy were Norman. In some areas it was almost a total wipeout. There are only 2 Thegns who held significant estates directly from the Conqueror. A whitewash.
The Harrying of the North
The conseqences of William the Conqueror's rampage lasted for well over 15 years, with the entire vale of York laid waste. I promised some passges from one of the Chroniclers, Roger of Hoveden. By and large, Roger is a dull chap, but the Harrying caught his imagination.
'William…swore he would pierce the whole of northumbria with a single spear… (he) did not cease throughout the whole winter to ravage it, slay the inhabitants and commit many other acts of devastation.
… a famine prevailed to such a degree that…men ate human flesh and that of horses, dogs and cats; some persons went as far as to sell themselves into slavery… some departed from their native country into exile.
It was dreadful to see human corpses rotting in the houses, streets and high roads, and as they reeked with putrefaction, swarming with worms, and sending forth a horrid stench; for…there were not suifficient left to inter them.Between York and Durham there was not one inhabited town; the dens of wild beasts and robbers …were alone to be seen.
You get the picture. It was a difficult time.