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.
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