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Published by: mpasso on Feb 07, 2009
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History of EnglandChapter 3: The French Kings
Under the Norman and Angevin rulers (1066-1399) previousScandinavian ties were severed and replaced by a new liaison withthe Continent. In these years England was dominated by a French-speaking nobility and a Latin-speaking clergy. Paradoxically, under theforeign leadership, England developed distinctive institutions whichimitated no foreign models, but instead blended into a new synthesisthe old Saxon traditions and the new Norman feudalism andadministration. Attachment to the Continent brought England a moreeffective political and military system; but it also meant that Englishkings became embroiled in French affairs, often at the expense of thecountry’s interests.
The Norman Conquest
William, duke of Normandy, made careful preparations to make goodhis claim to the English throne, and aided by fortuitous circumstances,he defeated Harold, Godwin’s son, and became king by conquest. Theruling Normans never displaced the AngloSaxons as the latter haddone with the Britons, for the Normans were too few in number.Nevertheless, they destroyed the old English nobility and maintainedtheir minority rule by a strong central government, by the militarytechnique of mounted knights, and by the security of fortified castles.
Norman Rule.
The Norman conquest, unlike the easy yoke imposed onthe English lords by Canute, proved to be severe in consequence.William confiscated Saxon estates and gave them to his followers. Amonarchy based on political feudalism was transplanted fromNormandy where the Duke had already established the mostcentralized and best- administered state in Europe. This politicalfeudalism rested on the fealty exacted from Norman nobles in returnfor land holdings granted by the King.
William’s Claim to the Throne.
On the death of Edward the ConfessorWilliam claimed the English throne on the grounds that Edward hadpromised to make him his heir, that Harold, when shipwrecked on theNormandy coast in 1064, had given him a sacred oath of support, andthat by Viking descent he was related to the English royal family -hewas the first cousin once removed of King Edward. In addition, PopeAlexander II sanctioned William’s designs: thus strengthened by theseassertions, the Duke recruited an army of about seven thousand andoffered his recruits the bleating of the pope and the promise of English estates.
The Invasion of 1066.
King Harold moved his troops to the south coastto meet the anticipated Invasion of the Duke of Normandy on thechannel coast. Hardrada, king of Norway, another claimant to thethrone, landed in Northumbria with the aid of Tostig, King Harold’sbrother. Harold rushed north and repulsed the invaders at Stamford
Bridge near York, killing Harold Eardrada and Tostig. While King Haroldwas triumphing in the north, William landed unopposed at Pevenseyon the south coast. With no respite Harold returned to the southwithout reinforcements and met Willliam’s army near Hastings onOctober 14. In a pitched battle that lasted through the stubborndefense of the English house-earls or regulars. Victory becamedecisive when the King’s two brothers were slain, and a random arrowstruck down Harold. The Duke then catiously moved on towardLondon, subduing Romney, Dover, and Canterbury enroute. When nohelp was forthcoming from the northern earls, the people of Londonsubmitted, and William, the last successful foreign invader of England,was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas.
William the Conqueror 
. For the next five years William crushed localresistance and was merciless in punishing the northern rebellions. Thelands of the rebels were confiscated and given to his followers.Fortified castles were built in the countryside, beginning with the Tower of london. Once again, the disunity of England proved itsundoing, for the revolts never won more than regional support andonly succeeded in weakening the English nobility. William was equallyfirm in repudiating the political claims of the papacy. When PopeGregory VII claimed England as a papal fief, William replied with the Triple Concordat which made royal permission necessary before anypapal power could be exercised in England. As long as the church’sdemands did nor jeopardize his political authority, William permittedthe establishment of ecclesiastical courts and helped Lanfranc, thenew Archbishop of Canterbury, increase the administrativecentralization of the church.Results of the Conquest. Although William retained Anglo-Saxoncustoms that did not conflict with his rule, he was instrumental inintroducing many features that fundamentally altered English life: areformed church which governed its affairs more fully; a politicalfeudal system based on landholding; a substantial centralizing of royal power; an increase of commercial activity with the Latin world;and the adoption of the language and the manners of the Frenchcourt. Consequently, there began the five-century involvement of thekings of England with the French empire.
Anglo-Norman Feudalism
William brought with him the political and economic practices of hisnative Normandy and fastened them on the more loosely structuredEnglish society. However, the system came too late to have thestifling effects on the English nation that it had on parts of theContinent. Norman feudalism saved England from the moreimmediate dangers of anarchy and civil war and gave the country themeans of coping with its greatest flaw -a lack of national unity andadministration.
 A Pyramid of Power 
. William operated on the principle, never claimedby Anglo-Saxon kings, that all the land belonged to him. In theory thismeant that no tenant or vassal should be more powerful than the
king, but in practice they often were more powerful than the king,especially on the Continent. As a case in point, the Duke of Normandywas far more powerful than his lord, the King of France, and defiedhim with impunity. Therefore, in structuring political feudalism inEngland. William made sure that no vassal could treat him as he hadtreated his liege lord. He scattered the holdings of his vassals so theycould not form consolidated fiefs, such as he held in Normandy or asEarl Godwin had possessed under Edward the Confessor. He alsoretained the fyrd as a counterforce to the nobility. By this morecentralized structure he overcame the great liability of continentalfeudalism -that the parts were greater than the whole.
Origins of Feudalism.
 The roots of feudalism can be traced to the vastvillas of Roman days and the half-free
who worked the land butwere not free to leave it. In the eighth century Charlemagne hadgranted tracts of land to followers and promised them immunity fromroyal administration. These privileges, known as
hadweakened the central government. With Charlemagne’s death and thecollapse of his empire there grew up over the next two hundred yearsan improvised system of land tenure based on military service. Thisfeudal system emerged to meet two immediate needs: localprotection from the menace of Viking raids, since the king was nolonger able to guarantee the safety of his subjects, and enlistment of the services of nobles and fighting men. Rival rulers had little moneywith which to purchase allegiance, but they had much land at theirdisposal when the empire was divided after Charlemagne’s death. Therefore, they offered grants of land in return for allegiance andmilitary support. The feudal arrangement became, in essence, apolitical, military, and social relationship between the king and hissubjects in which landholding was the determining factor of rank.
Lord and Vassal.
Feudalism was also a contractual relationship on apersonal basis between lord (the donor of a
or parcel of land) and vassal (the recipient). In England William kept for himself one-fourth of the estates that he confiscated, gave one-fourth to thechurch, and parcelled out the remaining land to the barons of hisconquering army on the conditions of feudal tenure. As their liege lordWilliam guaranteed his vassals protection and justice. In return theyswore their allegiance (homage and fealty) to him and promised tosupply annually a specified number of knights for forty days of military service. They were further obligated to entertain the King (orthe lord to whom they owed their fealty) on visits, to attend his court,and to pay certain fees, such as bearing the expense of knighting thelord’s oldest son, or paying the cost of his daughter’s marriage, orransoming the lord if he became a captive. To strengthen his holdover the barons, William permitted no castles to be built without royalconsent, and in the Oath of Salisbury he demanded prime allegiance,not only from his tenants-in-chief but from all vassals. Thiscentralization of power was likewise reflected in the continuation of the Danegeld and in an elaborate census of the ownership andwealth of the kingdom. Royal commissioners traveled to every shireto take this statistical survey for purposes of taxation, and their

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