23 William the Conqueror and the subjugation of England

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┬áHistory of England podcast.

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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.

19 thoughts on “23 William the Conqueror and the subjugation of England

  1. Hi, really enjoying this series thanks.
    Your recent podcast answering questions spurred me to ask one too. Hopefully this is the right place for it to be seen!
    I have stolen this question from one asked on the History of Rome podcast about Roman awareness of Han China. My slightly modified question is how aware of the rest of the world was Anglo Saxon England (apart from the Viking invasions!)?
    I was wondering as in Roman England there must have been a fair few people aware of and even from (or travelled to) distant places such as Byzantium, North Africa etc. However by the time of the start of your series all the little kingdoms that become England seem to live in a much smaller world and their knowledge greatly reduced from that of earlier centuries?
    PS. Please don’t stop at 1901!

  2. Hi Thomas. Really interesting question, and thanks for the compliment! Um, I will do my best just now, but also will do some research – I’d like to know more myself!
    1. It’s difficult to know for the early years – the records are so bad
    2. Christianity makes a big difference, and puts them in contact with Rome. Ine of Wessex, for example, resigns as King in 725 and goes to die in Rome – and actually quite a few do the same thing.
    3. Actually they are probably quite connected with the immediate continent; Offa in the 8th C mixes it with Charlemagne. Alfred has various relations married to the Count of Flanders and the Holy Roman Emperor.
    4. Further afield, later on they know of Byzantium – the Varangian guard of course is English and well as Viking (I think). And Edward the Exile in the 11th Century of course is in Exile in Hungary.
    But I suspect that AS England was pretty remote and only dimly aware of the outside world in the earlier centuries; and that the Normans drag them into the European light in quite a dramatic way. I#ll do some research though and podcast it !

  3. Great podcast, good fun to listen to while working in the garden (see its not just useful when ironing). Thank you for your work, I do find your approach very charming.
    Just a question. Are you aware on Lars Brownworth’s excellent podcast series on the Normans – Norman Centuries? I’ve been listening to both your series which intersect with your podcast series well. Your views on 1066 do reflect the different angles you both came from.

  4. Hi Jonathan. I am charmed to be thought charming ! My mother always said I had a nice smile . . .
    Um, yes, I am aware of Lars. In fact I suspect that Lars may be the father of it all, all this ‘History of . . .’ podcasting. I think that Mike Duncan’s History of Rome’ was inspired by Lars; I (and I am sure others) were inspired by Mike. But it’s interesting that you say there’s a different view. I listened to the podcasts ages ago, and haven’t gone back to them since I did my episode. I seem to remember thinking he was a bit kind to Robert the Magnificant, who in my (dour, Protestant) view was a bit of an idiot.
    Anyway, thanks for gettin gin touch, and long may you enjoy it while you garden. Maybe we should start a gardening blog to boot . . when I am not podcasting I’m on the allotment. Dear oh dear.

  5. I am also doing my ironing on a Sunday afternoon while listening to the podcast! I didn’t know it was such a popular combination…

  6. *sigh*
    I’m catching up. I found this podcast after you little post on THOR about the various “History Of” podcasts. Up to this one now.
    It was a bit tough at the start. A jumble of names and places and tricky to keep track of, but your maps and so forth really help. Maybe it would be smoother going if I actually lived in Angleterre.
    But I like it. I’ve stuck around for 23 episodes, and it’s getting into more familiar territory now. Interesting to get the feel of just how un-united England was leading up to 1066.

  7. I was delighted to here that someone else is listening to this podcast whilst ironing. I’m glad to be a part of the History of England Ironing Society.

  8. Hello Celia…obviously if I was in business I would be madly researching this, but I suspect the Ironing marketing is third in importance only after commuters and cyclists. Maybe I should include a few ironing shanties? Do you shanty while you iron?

  9. This is finally my opportunity to comment on your wonderful podcast. I would not want to be tested on my knowledge of early English history (even though you do the best job I’ve ever heard and seen of anyone to make it more approachable!)but I feel that now I’m in more comfortable territory, just like the non-English reader above. I’ve been listening to your podcasts in concentrated bursts and it is always while I am sewing. Today I happen to be ironing fabric for a Halloween costume and I just hit play…and started laughing. Thank you so much for all your hard work and research. I have been recommending it to every nerdy friend I have, so your gospel is being spread far and wide.

  10. I have just discovered this podcast series and am LOVING IT! I know I’m pretty late on the scene, but living abroad I was losing touch with a love of history. However, I don’t listen while ironing or sewing but when I wake up in the middle of the night, so every day I have an episode or two to send me off blissfully to sleep again – if I fall asleep before the end I just re-play them the next day. Stunning.
    Regarding chaps who came over with William, my sister assures me that we’re directly descended from William de Braose I, 1049-1093, who fought at Battle of Hastings. He was 1st Lord of Bramber, Sussex, and through him to William de Braose IV, 1150-1211. whose wife Maud de Valery was imprisoned by King John at Corfe Castle and was starved to death.
    Their great great grandaughter, Joan de Braose married Sir John Penrys, their daughter Isabella married Sir Hugh Mansel, 1340-1376 and their great grandson was Sir Philip Mansel, beheaded after the Battle of Tewkesbury. My mother was a Mansel. There’s also a family tradition that a Clavell, (also until recently in the family tree), was William’s cup-bearer. It’s all history of one sort or another!
    Please don’t stop at 1901. Nobody has ever done justice to Slim and the 14th Army. I wonder if he’d been in the European theatre if the war there would have been a year shorter – but we’d have probably lost India …
    Anyway, thanks for being such an entertaining bedtime companion – and if you ever need a holiday try my place in Portugal. You’ll find it on Google by searching for “Paradise in Portugal” – it’s all in the name!

  11. Hi Frank, and welcome – better late than never!
    I would be very excited if I was descended from the Braose family – one of the big lords on the Welsh Marches, and well as Sussex. They had a colourful history – especially a few forced marriages and executions after a run in with Llewellyn Prince of Wales…

  12. Hello there, coming through the podcasts for the first time in 2019 and wanted to ask if you’ve had a chance to read Marc Morris’ “The Norman Conquest”? It’s somewhat revisionist but well-sourced enough to be compelling. As I understood it, the author argues that William was in many ways less violent during his conquest than Cnut was (the number of executions for example) and the number of revolts that followed this leniency ended up inflicting much higher casualties on the English nobility than the swift and sudden mopping up that Cnut did.

    1. I guess that might be true; it’s an interesting way to put it though I have not read the book. There’s an almost unavoidable tendency to squish the period between 1066 and Domesday book, and assume therefore that since Domesday shows such a complete removing and the Anglo Saxon landowning class that this is reflected from the start; and yet William did leave the Midland earls and Waltheof in power. However, it’s the level down which would be the most important to consider – the tenants in chief, rather than the very few political elite. What does Morris have to say there?

    1. It;s true, slightly odd I didn’t really cover him. It would have been good to separate myth from fact. I might come back to it

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